Want What You’ve Got! (pisa)


Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Originally posted as part of a Lenten devotional series, Want What You’ve Got! (pisa) provides food for thought for those who seem to be leaning today.

We have several awesome photographs, spanning a number of European vacations, of various family members standing in front of the Tower of Pisa. You may know it as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

My favorite version of this family photo op pictures our daughter standing beside her European tour guide (our former exchange student), and she is clearly pleased to be there, posing in front of one of the world’s most recognized structures. Famous because of its failure to stand upright as a building should. Recognized because of its structural malfunction.

Even before its completion, the Tower of Pisa leaned. The ground on one side of the Tower was too soft to hold the structure level, causing it to sink. As the upper floors were constructed, engineers tried to offset the tilt by making one side taller than the other and as a result, the Tower is actually curved.

In recent years a massive reconstruction effort took place in order to save the Leaning Tower from the gravity of its fate. Tons of lead counterweights were added to its base to keep the walls from eventually tumbling down, but because of the obvious tourist attraction, it was determined that any fix could not alter the angle of the lean – only keep it from continuing to tilt. Having been deemed stable in 2008 (for at least another 200 years), the Tower still leans at an angle of 3.97 degrees.

I’m willing to bet that back in 1173, the Tower’s architects didn’t intend for their monument to lean. They started with a plan, just like modern builders do, but were met with unexpected conditions and unanticipated complications once the work had begun.

They had choices at every turn. They could have stopped the project or changed the building’s location to an area of stable ground. They could have altered the design and made the building wider or shorter than originally planned. With every choice, their creation acquired character and substance, ultimately making it into the architectural wonder that it is today.

There had to be some for whom the Pisa debacle was both a disappointment and an embarrassment. Others who were further removed from the construction itself may very well have gotten a chuckle out of watching the fancy new building begin to lean. The Tower team was likely the butt of many jokes in surrounding communities – you can imagine how that must have played out.

In all likelihood, the builders and owners of the Tower of Pisa did not Want What They Got when they realized they had built their house on sand. Little did they know that hundreds of years later, tourists from around the globe would be lining up with toothy grins for snapshots in front of their project-gone-south.

Some of us rolled out of bed today feeling like the butt of someone’s thoughtless joke because what we’ve been working so hard to build is beginning – ever so slightly – to lean.

Some of us are the architects of amazing and wonderful ideas and plans that seem to take on a failed life of their own every time we roll up our sleeves and go to work.

Some of us honestly don’t Want What We’ve Got because what we had pictured in our heads isn’t even close to what’s playing out in front of our eyes.

We’re disappointed. We’re embarrassed. We’re malfunctioning. We’ve failed.

From where we are standing, everything we’ve ever dreamed of is leaning 3.97 degrees off-center and the best we can do is throw some lead on the other side in an attempt to keep the whole thing from crashing to the ground. If we didn’t know better, we would be people without hope, blind and bitter about our inability to predict whether the work of our hands will stand or fall or lean…

And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16 (KJV)

The good news is that while we cannot see what happens next, God can! Where there is uncertainty, God will navigate! Where there is darkness and confusion, God will illuminate! Where things are crooked and leaning, God will set them straight! Where there is hopelessness, God will not forsake!

Who’s to say that your current structural failure cannot be redeemed? Just look at the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Want What You’ve Got!

Daily Questions: Where has your life failed to live up to your plans? Are there adjustments required? Can you finish this job on your own, or do you need to call in a team of experts to help you finish well? Have you considered that God may have His own plan for the work of your hands? Are you willing to let Him decide whether to right the tower or make a monument out of your mistakes?


Sometimes I’m the Light Bulb…


English: High Resolution black and white photo...
Q: How many egomaniacs does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. He holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.
Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  How many can you afford?
Q: How many board meetings does it take to get a light bulb changed?
A: This topic was resumed from last week’s discussion, but is incomplete pending resolution of some action items. It will be continued next week. Meanwhile…
Q: How many campfire worship leaders does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. But soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.
Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. But the light bulb has to really want to change.

Even Wikipedia has a page dedicated to defining the cultural phenomenon known as the light bulb joke:

A light bulb joke is a joke that asks how many people of a certain group are needed to change, replace, or screw in a light bulb. Generally, the punch line answer highlights a stereotype of the target group. There are numerous versions of the light bulb joke satirizing a wide range of cultures, beliefs and occupations.

Many versions of the joke are puns on the word “change”.

Change is equivalent to a four-letter word for many of us (just ask the woman approaching her 50’s what she thinks about the change). In the spirit of Dire Straits’ lyric for The Bug (“sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”), sometimes I feel like the light bulb in all of these silly change jokes. Growing dim. Fading out. Flickering. Failing. No longer functioning the way I used to (the way I ought to). Powerless to bring about the change that’s needed most – because what really needs changing is me.

There are also times when I feel like the proverbial butt of all of those light bulb jokes. Instead of taking the most direct route to meet the needed change head-on, I drag my feet. I complain. I call for back-up. I make excuses. Instead of simply making the change – replacing the broken with the functional – I try desperately to do it my way instead. Anything to delay the change.

The writer of Proverbs knew this about us:

“Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” Proverbs 20:30 (Good News Translation)

Like it or not, our unwillingness to see change as a good thing is actually a root cause of many of the tears we shed. Paul knew this. He had written words to the church at Corinth which resulted in some tears on their end. Instead of apologizing, though, Paul said this:

“But now I am happy – not because I made you sad, but because your sadness made you change your ways. That sadness was used by God, and so we caused you no harm. For the sadness that is used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation – and there is no regret in that! But sadness that is merely human causes death.” 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (GNT)

Sometimes God uses the tough stuff (when we’re feeling like the bug) in order to bring about the change that we are content to forever tap dance around, if left to our own devices.

There has got to be a better way! John the Baptist must have had these inklings, too, when:

“In many different ways, John preached the Good News to the people and urged them to change their ways.” Luke 3:18 (GNT)

Wouldn’t it be better all around if we would heed the wisdom of the Baptist and take the initiative to change the light bulb (or the relationship – or the situation – or the priority – or the behavior) ourselves? Difficult as this may seem, it’s exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans chapter 12 when he warned his readers not to become “so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (v. 2, The Message)

To follow Paul’s line of thinking requires us to look at change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Facing change squarely and not backing down makes us think outside the lazy box-life that many of us lead – as Paul said – without even thinking. Change engages our minds and invites us to participate in our own lives rather than spectate, watching life unfold from as great a distance as we can muster.

Shifting focus from the ways of the world to the Way of the Word ushers in the new! New feelings. New choices. New ways of being in the world.

As uncomfortable and disconcerting as change can often be, it always does one thing very well…

Living in the eye of the hurricane of change confirms that, YES! You are alive! You don’t have to numb out to the predictability and monotony of the same old routine. You may be bruised and you may be bleeding, but you have the choice today to become the embodiment of Jimmy Buffett’s lyric: “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” (Growing Older But Not Up)

To live a life that defies every light bulb joke in the book will require that you stop dwelling on the light bulb that needs to be changed. Of course the bulbs are going to burn out – they aren’t made to last forever. Of course the things that are working in your life today will one day begin to flicker and fade – this life wasn’t made to last forever, either.

Resolve this day to make the change you need to make, but don’t let that change capture your attention. Instead, fix your eyes on the One whose light will never grow dim! With Him, change won’t get the better of you.

You’ll be changed! From the inside out.

Wanted: Champions


RunnerI used to run in the mornings.

When I was (significantly) younger, I would wake up early and sleepily tie on my sneakers, pop a cassette tape into my Walkman (yup – just dated myself), put my headphones on (no earbuds, mind you, just a couple of generously-sized speakers that nearly covered my entire ear), and wander out onto the pavement.

My first steps were always labored and awkward (not to mention painfully slow). Often though, as my body warmed to the idea of motion, I would find my stride. The rhythmic thud of my feet on the street somehow managed to free up space in my head. Some days, I found myself lost in the music I was listening to. Other times, my thoughts were so loud that the music served only as a soundtrack for the stories and scenarios streaming through my mind.

But there were moments during these early morning jogs where neither the music nor the head games could compete with the drama emerging from the east. On these days, as the sun gathered its energy and bled its light into the fading darkness, I was nearly overcome by the power of the new day. Light and warmth intensified everything within eyeshot, exposing the world to me and me to it. On these days, when my run was over, I felt… different. As if I hadn’t just been on a run, but on a journey. That somehow, in 30 minutes’ time, I had started and completed something; that mysteriously, things had changed.

One thing I never experienced, however, was the sense that I was in any way/shape/form a Champion. I was just a jogger. A novice. A casual athlete. I wasn’t running to win any races or trying to keep pace with anyone else. I ran because I had a desire to move.

At a meeting I attended last week, this word Champion came up.

Not the winner/victor/title-holder kind of Champion, but the supporter/guardian/defender/advocate kind.

The kind of Champion who campaigns tirelessly for her cause.

The kind of Champion who will fight for what is right and necessary and true.

The kind of Champion who stands up for those who just can’t find their balance (or have been knocked out so many times that they just can’t lift themselves up off of the mat – again).

Not the noun-kind-of-Champion, who wears a medal or frames a certificate to hang on the wall, but the verb-kind-of-Champion. The doing/speaking/acting/stepping-out-of-comfort-zones-for-something-bigger-than-myself-ing kind. One who bravely acts on an innate desire to move.

The Psalmist noticed this need to move in the daily recurrence of the sunrise, comparing the sun to “a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.” Psalm 19:5

Having a very well-defined ‘course’ to run, the sun rises every morning and sets every night, only to rise up and do the same again tomorrow. And the day after that. And again, the day after that. Without the faithful, daily emergence of light and heat from the sky, all of creation would be out of whack. Out of sync. Unable to function predictably.

Without this Champion of the sky, darkness would prevail on the earth.

But a quick look around me confirms that, while physical darkness comes and goes with the day, other forms of darkness have fallen around us which aren’t so eager to be ushered out by the sun.

Emotional darkness. Depression. Lost hope.

Relational darkness. Betrayal. Discord.

Spiritual darkness. Confusion. Mixed messages.

I know you see it. I know you feel it all around you, every time you leave the house or pick up the phone or turn on the tv.

Champions are needed in this world that’s out of whack, to bring it back into sync with the Creator. Verb-kinds-of-Champions, whose goal isn’t victory but action. Whose course is met with patience and persistence and joy.

Whose first steps may be labored and awkward and slow, but whose faithful attempts at finding their stride produce rhythms of freedom and healing and possibility for those who haven’t seen the sun in a very, very, very long time.

Friend, move to a window and look up.

The One Who made the sun and set its course in the sky is the same One Who created you! You may not have noticed this before, but you have been given your own course to run. You are the possessor of energy and light, and there are people all around you whose lives are crying out for a Champion!

Not a competitive, gotta-come-out-on-top Champion, but one who is compassionate, looking-out-for-the-lost-and-the-lonely-and-the-least. Not sprinting to the finish, leaving the ‘competition’ in the dust, but faithfully and steadily following the course of a God-crafted life in a God-hungry world.

We need Champions!

Double-knot those sneakers, my brave friend. I’ll see you on the street.

An Unlikely Mentor

At William “Bill” Alfier’s memorial service today, memories flowed freely and were peppered with laughter, salted with tears. Bill was a colorful guy for whom appearances meant nothing, but whose family and friends meant everything to him. He lived exactly as he pleased and gave permission for others to do the same, and whether or not he intentionally chose to mentor three young men, including my husband, the return on Bill’s investment of time and attention touches my own life every single day.

People like Bill Alfier are a rare breed, yet today more than ever we need these unlikely mentors to grow the next generation of engineers, leaders, teachers, world-changers; people who see potential in everyone and are willing to pour into a few lives the best of what they’ve learned. These exchanges might take place at the conference table or over a working lunch, but it’s all the better when they happen during the course of a real and imperfect life; for my husband, this included countless rides in cigar-smoke infused vehicles and many hours spent seated on bar stools, listening to the shaping-stories of a man who held nothing back.

It was a beautiful thing to hear my husband, Dallas Hammit, speak the following words in honor of his mentor, Bill Alfier. We share them with you now in hopes that you, too, will consider the power your life still has when you make the choice to give it away.

If you knew Bill, you know he had strong opinions on many subjects: politics, the Marine Corps, and building roads, but what stayed with me were his thoughts on people. Bill often said “God did not make any junk.” Bill looked for the best in people and was constantly watching for ways to assist people in their personal and professional development. This help came in a number of forms:
        Pushing you to start or complete college,
        Providing a work schedule that would allow for continuing education,
        Providing coaching to advance one’s career, or
        Taking a backseat to allow a young engineer to learn and grow.

Bill lived servant leadership. It was not a fad or the trending thing to do, it was a belief.  “A leader must put their employees first and allow them to grow.”

Bill liked to tell stories, and I heard most of them in the car as we drove through the District. Many times it would start with Bill calling loudly down the hall, “I’ve got roads to build!” and we would be off. There were lots of stories. Stories of the days when he worked in the carnival. Stories of going to Montana to mine copper. Stories of stripping down to his underwear at the bar, to win a bet with Mr Higgins. Stories of changing the way things were done at ADOT. One of those lasting changes was the Maintenance Servant Leadership Team. Bill – and others – believed the people closest to the work should have a larger say in what goes on and how we do things in maintenance. They formed a team of engineers and superintendents that met regularly and set policy for the way their department would do business, from dividing the budget to advocating for worker’s pay. This group is still active today.

And if there ever was a question about whether Bill had a lasting influence at ADOT, just look at the current leadership: a District Engineer, State Engineer and Chief of Operations all grew and developed under Bill’s leadership.

Bill Alfier will be missed.

William “Bill” Peter Alfier, July 22, 1944 – January 22, 2018

Trek to the Manger (DQ29)

We can only imagine what awaits us at the end of our own Trek to the place where Christ is present.

“Only Christ can get rid of the veil. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are – face to face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” 2 Corinthians 3:14b-18

May you arrive at the manger – in your heart – and be so much more full of Light and energy and life this year, for having taken this Advent-ure with us.

And remember – from this day on, it’s you and God on a road revealed milepost by milepost – the adventure of a lifetime!

Trek to the Manger 29

If you registered for the Trek and posted at least three times in response to the daily questions during Advent, stay tuned for the results of our nifty prize drawings! Recipients will be posted on the Trek to the Manger page by January 2, 2018.

Trek to the Manger (DQ28)

Trek to the Manger 28You’ve heard the saying, “there’s safety in numbers,” right?

Maybe. But on this Trek to the Manger, I’ve become a firm believer that “there’s energy in numbers,” too.

Think about it! Together, God’s light in the lives of believers shines more brightly than a life lived – however passionately – alone.

I wonder, is God leading you toward others who share your passions? Energy? Vision? Who are they, and how are you going to respond?

Over the past week, I’ve also decided to adopt a new mantra in 2018: Follow the Energy! Where God’s good stuff is happening, the Spirit is stirring, and even if you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel the power surging as you move closer to the action.

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened at the manger, all those years ago.


Trek to the Manger (DQ27)

Trek to the Manger 27

So much life is lost in waiting for “someday” to arrive.

Some of us, hearts set on Heaven, miss the beauty to be found in our broken world today.

Others, so dialed-in to their goals and agendas, squander today’s opportunities while planning for a tomorrow that may never actually arrive.

Do you remember a time when the anticipation of a coming event or milestone kept you from truly engaging in your life being lived “today?” 

Today, let’s agree to give away the temptation to look forward to the future at the expense of here-and-now!

Trek to the Manger (DQ26)

Trek to the Manger 26Being stranded stretches us.

Even in the face of warm hospitality and a tasty bowl of chili, some of us will choose to pout because things just aren’t going our way.

“The Holy can be either a Hiding Place or a Boulder blocking your way.” Isaiah 8:14

Which one is it going to be for you, as the long-awaited Christmas holiday arrives?

Will you take refuge in the strength of the Baby in the manger, while you wait for life to make sense again? Or will you stand, hands-on-hips, and complain about the roads that have been closed along the way?

Maybe today is your day to whip up a batch of “chili” (real or proverbial – you decide), to make someone else’s wait less trying. At least they’d know they’re not alone.


Trek to the Manger (DQ25)

Trek to the Manger 25Lately, I’ve taken quite a few rides on Lyft. It takes a little bit of getting used to, being a passenger in someone else’s car.

When I’m driving, I get to decide when to change lanes, when to change directions. Not so when someone named Andre or Pete is driving.

On this Trek to the Manger, we’ve talked a lot about making changes. The thing is, what God is really after is our willingness to go along for the ride.

Do you trust Him to get you where you need to go?

What’s it going to take for you to enthusiastically call out “Shotgun!”?


Trek to the Manger (DQ24)

Trek to the Manger Ch 24Can’t help but chuckle, reading chapter 24 afresh, now that my Stinky Friday kid is all grown-up. Maybe it was in rebound from those good ol’ sixth grade days, but there was a definite spike in water usage when high school rolled around.

I’ve got two questions for you to consider on this Stinky (Friday) Tuesday…


Deodorant is a cover-up for body odor. Anti-perspirant works to keep smelly conditions at bay. Which have you been relying on to keep your world stink-free, and how’s that working for you?

Just in case you hadn’t realized it, stink is a by-product of living. Close your eyes and engage your spiritual nostrils… What smells a bit ripe in your domain today?

Today, I thank God for the waters of baptism and the chance He gives each of us to start again, fresh and clean and stinky-sin-free!

Trek to the Manger (DQ22)

Trek to the Manger Ch 22It’s so hard to know what people need to hear.

On the one hand, there are things I like to say! I have my favorite stories to tell and advice to give, and when I’m learning something that affects me deeply, I’m apt to want to share it with others.

But what if those things aren’t what my fellow sojourners need to hear? What if they just need me to listen? What if they just want company – a peaceful presence on the road – with no words at all?

I’m wordy and I know it. Today, I want duct tape over my mouth, to remind me to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19), because my high-beam energy just might be scaring away those who are in desperate need of God’s presence, not my interpretation of it.

Consider those whose lives currently intersect with your own. Who is keeping step with you? Who is lagging behind? Who is watching from the sidewalk, as if on the parade route? And what is your responsibility toward them as a bearer of light in God’s Kingdom?

Trek to the Manger (DQ21)

Trek to the Manger Ch 21Who is your gift-giving really about? 

For those of us on a Trek to the Manger, questions like this one are helping to guide our decision-making in a season of auto-pilot moves.

Tradition is great, but mindless tradition needs to be questioned. Why we do what we do, in terms of gift-giving or anything else, really does matter!

Do you have a philosophy of gifting during the Christmas season (or even year-round)? 

If you could box up your life’s best gift for our Savior, what would it be?