10 Minutes in New Orleans

Last weekend we traveled to New Orleans to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll race. Unless you hibernate in your hotel, you see and therefore learn a lot in New Orleans. I’ve never been disappointed visiting New Orleans.

As for seeing and learning in New Orleans, a visit there should include taking in great food. We made it a point to not eat at the same place twice. Not necessarily hard to do, but certainly fun to achieve. Here’s the food establishments we visited during our stay:

The Milk Bar

We ate just about anything you could ask for: crawfish, shrimp and grits, crab, gumbo, pasta, burgers, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, and beignets. No regrets.

Boil Seafood House

I can only imagine the challenges these owners and employees have survived during the pandemic. This race, an annual event, wasn’t even held last year. And who knows how many others were canceled. So to be open and surviving is a testament to their commitment to their business and their customers.

We Floridians came to town somewhat clueless to the continuing COVID protocols in place in New Orleans. We learned real quick. Not in a rude way, but it was clear we were not at home. Mask mandates required us to mask up everywhere we went. No problem. Happy to comply. In some places, vaccination proof was required; we knew this as a requirement to enter the race expo. No problem. Happy to comply.

What was interesting to see was how the employees of these ten food businesses went about treating their customers while holding to these protocols. 9 out of 10 were excellent experiences. Regardless of their choosing to uphold the protocols or choosing to require vaccination proof, these employees treated their customers with excellent respect and warmth as they worked under unusual circumstances.

Our best experience was at Kilwins on Decatur Street. It was Sunday afternoon, and my friend wanted a shake. Google told us the closest shake available was Kilwins, so we headed there. We passed Cafe Beignet on our way there and decided it was time to get some beignets as well, after Kilwins. The next 10 minutes was a lesson in customer service.

If you know me, a “no” to ice cream is rare. But I was saving room for beignets. Even the chocolate was not tempting me in Kilwins. We already had our share from Leah’s Pralines, so I didn’t enter Kilwins with a shopping mindset. Just taking it in. We were not greeted at the door by anyone checking proof of vaccination. What we were greeted with was employees behind the counter welcoming us in the store, “Welcome to Kilwins!” My buddy ordered his shake, while I eyed the chocolate. Nicey, behind the counter, asked if I needed any help. I said, “No, just looking.” She offered to give me a fudge sample. Do you think I said no? After that sample of her favorite, she asked if I saw another fudge I’d like to sample. Well, I had to admit I didn’t need a sample. I had been hooked into buying a chunk of Toasted Coconut Fudge, simply because it sounded intriguing. Plus, Nicey lived up to her name. We walked out of Kilwins happy shake and fudge customers expecting to enjoy more happiness in beignet land.

We went from the best customer experience to the worst customer experience in what felt like another city, but only two stores apart. Not to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say one Cafe Beignet employee was determined to have things her way when it came to COVID protocols to the point customers did not feel welcomed. We were thankful for outside seating.

In that ten minutes in New Orleans, we saw and learned a few things about customer service, about how to treat one another during challenging times, about power, about treating others the way you want to be treated.

To the 90% of New Orleans businesses that made our trip amazing, thank you. We remember our time with you as minutes well spent, minutes we were seen and heard, minutes you thought more about us than you did yourself. Keep giving your customers great minutes!

You Have Options

Three Saturdays ago I was sleeping the day away, pretty sure I had COVID. Test came back the next day affirming my suspicion.

I test my health often by running. Can I? How did it go? Do I need a nap soon after? Yadda yadda.

Thankfully my case was mild. I “ran a test” with a decent 5k the following Wednesday, but not every run since has been an indicator that all is well.

Earlier this week I set a plan to run each day this weekend-a progressive schedule of six miles on Friday, seven on Saturday, and eight on Sunday. Nothing new. This was a routine schedule this past Fall.

Not sure what it is, but Friday runs since the Summer have occasionally been rough. Yesterday was one of them. I cut it short, ending up with 4.15 miles. I haven’t let my mind look at Fridays any differently…well, until yesterday.

So last night and this morning I debated how far I should run this morning. Not running wasn’t an option I considered. I landed on simply running the same route as yesterday and see how the six went. Around mile two my legs felt pretty much like yesterday, not quite as sluggish. I decided it didn’t matter what pace I had to adjust to, how much walk/running I had to do, six miles was happening today.

A little over three miles I stopped for a quick water break in the park. I didn’t stop long. I didn’t want my body to tell my mind what to do. Somewhere in mile four my legs perked up. I told myself, “Go with it.” I adjusted my course and ran past my next turn taking the next road instead.

I ended up taking four more such turns and completed just under seven miles…with more in the tank.

Here’s my takeaway. We all have days when things don’t go according to plan. We all have to deal with letdowns, apparent failures, missed goals. At the end of those days when we assess the next one, we have options. They range from shutting down to overcompensating. Usually, somewhere in the middle is the best option.

How your next day goes is entirely up to you. You have options.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Real Life Psalm 46:10

More than once this year, people have quoted Psalm 46:10 in conversations reflecting on 2020. This week, God has reminded me of it in two ways.

First, by this excerpt from a book I’m reading, Talking to High Monks in the Snow:

Once, I listened to a biologist. She had been awarded a grant supporting field study in the Kalahari Desert. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. Over vast distances, in a rented Land Rover, she scurried here and there. She marked sites. She took readings. She made plans. Always rushing to the momentous occasion, triggered by the distant rains, when the animals she studied would appear.

One day, the Land Rover overheated. In order to reach water and safety a strategy was devised. The vehicle could travel a few kilometers each day. Then the engine required rest to cool down. The result was that scientist was forced to spend many hours in remote locations where she had no business being. It nearly drove her mad.

There she was, with so much urgent busyness to be doing, in a place where nothing could be done. Loathing to waste time she transcribed her notes. Then she reread her field manuals. She stared impatiently across the vast wilderness, willing the coming of the rains, and the animals, or at least of a spare and sprightly jeep. “Here I am in the Kalahari,” she fumed, “having worked all my life to fulfill a girlhood dream. Here I am and everything has been thwarted.”

Then as the hours turn to days, it dawned on her. She was in the Kalahari with eyes and ears and time on her hands. This was her girlhood dream. The biologist took a deep breath and looked around. Some insects labored in the sands. She watched them for a while and her anxious pulse rate slowed.

And as the days stretched to a week, she noticed the subtle shifts in the scent of the desert during the day. She noticed that at a certain hour, if certain conditions prevailed-like 32 distinctive signs accompanying an auspicious horoscope-then small iguanas would appear.

Over time, her drive to achieve scientific notoriety eroded, and her sense of wonder emerged. In the desert the biologist found her motto. It is one that she carries to this day.

“Don’t just do something,” the scientist said to me, “sit there.”

Second, by this statement from a friend who’s facing COVID:

“It has been a remarkable feeling of God being shoulder to shoulder with me this week.”

8 Ways to be Kinder

Recently I received a card that included an article cut out of The Wall Street Journal. The columnist wrote about the effects of kindness to our brains, particularly if we are the giver. She referenced Jamil Zaki’s book The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Beside the article was a list of kindness suggestions, particularly needed in our current climate. Check it out below.

5 Months in the Mirror

My friend Larry and I had breakfast yesterday. Without question, that conversation always includes sports and politics. But since being able to meet again after COVID lockdown, the conversation is more about what we’re observing and experiencing through these unusual times.

One thing we both agreed on: who people are is being exposed. 

  • If they are go-getters, they are still getting it. They may have to do it differently, but they are still going, still getting.
  • If they are glass-half-emptyites, they are having a hard time even picking up the cup.
  • If they are people people, they are figuring out how to stay engaged and connected.
  • If they are get-by-with-as-little-work-as-possible apostles, they may never vote to come back to an environment built on responsibility.

A reference was made that we’ve all been forced to look in the mirror. Some are fine with what they saw because they were already, for the most part, used to looking in the mirror and making adjustments. Others, well, they were taken back by what they saw. So they had a choice to make-which is the reality we all have when we look in the mirror. And good on us when we choose to do something, make adjustments, with the stuff we observe that needs improvement.

Larry stopped shocking me years ago; however, when he started a sentence with,”My favorite Michael Jackson song,” I thought he might be showing his first symptom of a new virus strand. When I let him continue, he made a good connection. 


So after five months of looking in the mirror, what are you doing with what you see? What conversations are you and God having about what you are both seeing?

“Self,…”

Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

“Have Some Tortellini!”

Yesterday morning a group of our church leaders shared what we’ve learned from the last 13 weeks since we were forced to respond to COVID-19. It was helpful for us to share with one another. In the spirit of sharing, here’s something I learned, maybe was reminded about last week while in the grocery store.

A while back I came across this brand of chicken salad in the deli that I now consider a staple. It’s an every-other-trip-to-the-store item. So as I headed to the shelf where my tub waited for me, another staple-finder beat me. He stopped right in front of my chicken salad. No big deal. What’s a few seconds to wait?

Well, he needed more than a few seconds. So you know, I rarely need more than a few seconds on any aisle in the store. I was getting a little irked waiting, but keeping my cool and my distance. I told myself, “Take a look around right where you are. If nothing else, distract yourself. Maybe there’s something here worth trying.”

One of my favorite pastas is tortellini. You can stuff them with just about anything, and I’ll pass you my bowl. Oddly though, I don’t buy it to make at home. It’s not a staple, more of a restaurant-only choice.

So…guess what I discovered after listening to myself. Yep, deli tortellini that I’ve walked by dozens of times…clueless and unfulfilled. (Yes, that’s over dramatic.) I had stopped right in front of it, but only because I was forced to.

What did I learn in the deli? Waiting has benefits.

  • Respecting others
  • Looking and learning
  • Seeing what you’ve missed
  • Discovering a new routine or staple
  • God may smile on you with a surprise…”Good job, waiting! Have some tortellini!”

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Izzy Boscawen

The Power of Christian Contentment (book review)

Releasing this book last year, there’s no way Andrew Davis knew how helpful this book could be this year.

I agree with a life coach that said this about COVID-19: “It’s not creating fear. It’s exposing the fears we already had.” The same could also be said about our contentment.

Each of the twelve chapters are rich. The most helpful ones are entitled The Mysterious Mindset of Contentment (5), The Excellence of Christian Contentment (7), The Evils and Excuses of a Complaining Heart (8), and Contentment in Suffering (9). Here are quotes from the entire book to help you tap into the power of contentment:

  • Christian contentment is finding delight in God’s wise plan for my life and humbly allowing him to direct me in it.
  • It is no stretch to say that the Lord may orchestrate amazingly challenging circumstances for you and your family for the primary purpose of giving your supernatural hope and Christian contentment a platform.
  • Abiding, supernatural contentment is a “secret” to be learned, not part of the original equipment of conversion.
  • Cosmologists estimate the total number of stars in the universe to be 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Each of those stars is named and sustained moment by moment by God.
  • The combination of complete satisfaction in the world and complete dissatisfaction with the world is a mystery of contentment.
  • There is an inherent humility in Christian contentment and a basic arrogance in discontentment.
  • Tempting a content man is like shooting flaming arrows at an iron wall.
  • Christian contentment enables us to worship God excellently, in a way far purer and more glorious than any other form, better than hearing a sermon or attending corporate worship without contentment.
  • Esteem contentment highly; hate complaining passionately.
  • Old wicked habits die through starvation, and new godly habits grow through obedience.
  • American evangelicals of the 21st century are the wealthiest Christians in the history of the church. According to one study, evangelicals worldwide collectively made $7 trillion in income for that year. The Christian income in America represents nearly half of the world’s total Christian income. That is a massively weighty responsibility for American Christians.
  • The tapestry of our life’s history is made up of Todays.
  • God sees everything in super slow motion, and every microsecond of history is calculated and part of God’s providential plan. Don’t let Satan speed things up. Slow down! Breathe!
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how your electronic devices, especially your smartphones, are making you discontent.

So much beauty…for eternity

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart…”

This verse explains why a pandemic like COVID-19 creates such response. In our hearts we long for beauty and eternity. Anything that smothers that longing is threatening and unnatural. The promise of beauty and eternity gives us reason to desire heaven more. Why?

  • Eternity won’t have restrictions
  • Eternity won’t be isolating
  • Eternity will be peaceful
  • Eternity will contain yet-to-be-seen beauty

Yesterday a thought came to me while visiting a friend who is dying from cancer. He talked about all the different birds that visit his backyard feeder every day. Made me wonder, “Can you imagine what the wildlife in heaven will be like?” 

No pandemic can threaten eternity. Nothing will ever again separate man from God. So much beauty…for eternity.

Choosing To Lead (a book review)

As we walk daily through COVID-19, at times it seems minute by minute, we observe leadership. Regardless of the outcomes and personal opinions of decisions, we are learning what choices mean to leadership.

After finishing Harvey Kanter’s book Choosing to Lead, I’d encourage all leaders of any position to use your downtime in the next few weeks to dialogue with it. He addresses several practical and vital aspects of leadership such as communication, optimism, values, curiosity, humility, and decisiveness. His definitions are experientially based; his directions are growth oriented. His encouragement is that many people have position to lead but have yet to actually choose to do it, and pursue doing it well. Kanter doesn’t claim to have all the answers; maybe that’s why his thoughts are worth considering. His words model his values based on his choices. Below are a dozen highlights.

  • I am not my resume.
  • Leaders keep seeking answers until they find them…asking questions is paramount to leading well.
  • When a leader is seen “doing what needs to be done,” a precedent is established for the team that you need to jump in and take action, not wait for someone else to act.
  • Your ability to learn through the unexpected will grow your leadership capacity…the kind of leader you are shows up in adversity.
  • Your ability to grow is in direct correlation to your level of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Your orientation towards learning will either stretch you to expand your thinking or constrain you to live in a static world.
  • A confident leader is one who recognizes the best qualities in others without being threatened.
  • We like to work with people we can believe in. We tend to believe in people who genuinely believe in themselves.
  • Leading people in sharing their views, risking that they may be misunderstood or that their view may not be appreciated by others, is a critical leadership skill.
  • Trying things new and unfamiliar stimulates subconscience problem-solving, forcing you to see things from a new point of view.
  • Actions are the truest reflection of values.
  • Accountability requires vulnerability.
  • The smartest people surround themselves with even smarter people.