Footsteps in SnowThis is a true story.  The names are changed.

Will was an insecure, painfully shy 11-year-old boy who came from a very poor family.  But his sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Goodwin, saw something special in him – not just in the student he was at the time, but as the adult he could become. And through that year, she began to give Will a gift that no one to that point had ever dared offer – the gift of confidence.

She told him he was the smartest student she ever had. She said it to him personally and to the class.

She told him how much potential he had.

She took him to her home.

She even took him to the junior high school he would attend the next year to introduce Will to his teachers and tell them what a great student he was.

She told him that the only other student who showed his potential became the vice president of a well-known university.

True to Mrs. Goodwin’s prediction, Will became the first person in his family to go to college. Buoyed by her care and concern he went on to a successful academic career… as a… (you guessed it) vice president of a major university.

Mrs. Goodwin was more than a teacher. She was a leader. She saw in an awkward kid a destiny that nobody else saw. Put in leadership terms, she had a vision. Then she set about investing the time and service necessary to put Will on a path toward that vision.

And the tool she used:  Influence. [click to continue…]


Tucked away in dozens of archived folders on my computer are literally thousands of works of art or horror stories – all in the form of academic papers.  I have been blessed to teach some of the most extraordinary researchers and writers on the planet.  I have also had that fingernails-on-the-chalkboard experience of reading some really bad stuff.  I thought I would go off the reservation a little today to share with you what I have learned from the best of the best and the worst of the worst.

Regardless of whether you are just starting to college or about to graduate with an advanced degree, you will not succeed in online education (or classroom either, for that matter) beyond your ability to write effectively.  Moreover, there is a massive difference between speaking English and writing it in a formal setting.  If a professor ever tells you that you write like you talk, they aren’t giving you a compliment.  Academic writing is a formal setting.  (This post is not.)  I make my living doing both.  If I spoke the same way I write in formal settings, I’d be stuffy and boring.  If I wrote the same way I talk conversationally or when I preach, I would butcher the King’s English and my paper would be filled with colloquialisms, contractions, sweeping statements that had little or no support, and at times poor grammar.

Here are some specific suggestions for writing success with any academic writing that uses the APA style manual (no, “APA” does not stand for “American Psycho Association,” though sometimes you may wonder).  You may need to adjust this for different formats (or different teachers with different hot buttons). [click to continue…]

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Jackie Mays was a legend.  Maybe not everywhere, but certainly in some of the circles we roamed in when our kids were small.  And to a couple of four-year-old twin girls, Mrs. Mays was larger than life.

Sending your kids off to school for the first time is a big adjustment.  Especially when they’re your oldest, and they’re the ripe old age of four.  Enter Mrs. Mays.  Not only was she a faithful member of our church in Birmingham, she was one of the K-4 teachers at Grace Christian School.  And a legendary gift she was, to both parents and their little darlings.

“Daddy, Mrs. Mays says…”

“Daddy, that’s not how Mrs. Mays…”

In Mrs. Mays’ class they learned the basics of reading and writing and that other “r.”  They learned the pledges and the Star-Spangled Banner. (Cassie used to come home with that wistful, “I just love America.”)  They learned to love God’s word, and learned the gospel and about heaven and hell and the price Jesus paid to snatch us from the one to take us to the other.  And they had fun learning it all.

There were no assistants, aides, or volunteers.  Just one amazing woman and a room full of four-year-olds, who most days sat mesmerized or did what was expected.

I want to tell you one of her not-so-secret secrets. [click to continue…]


Cohen and Me on a Trash Run

It’s a familiar old friend, comfortable as a favorite pair of shoes.  Brokenhearted parents cling to it, and eager young parents rise to it.  It’s a friendly reminder to us all that there’s a higher purpose in the midst of our most frustrating and confusing days.  And yet it can say so much more to us than we ever dreamed possible:

“Train up a child in the way he should go,

And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

We all know what that means, right?  It means when you have children, if you get them involved in church, discipline them properly, and teach them how to behave, then when they become adults, they will live consistently with the things you tried to teach them.  If you teach them to have high moral values as children, they will have high moral values as adults.


Wait a minute.  How do you respond to the mom or dad who doesn’t understand why their adult children don’t go to church like they do?  What do you say to the parent whose children have rebelled against their high moral standards and have rejected their values?

I’m convinced that many of us have missed some exciting possibilities because of the limited way we have interpreted this verse. [click to continue…]

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Did you that Visine WILL clean out your nose if you squirt it in?  But neither Johnson & Johnson nor I recommend that you use it for that purpose.  (Don’t ask me how I know.)


There are two ways to learn by experience – be amazing without realizing it, or be imperfect and realize it.  Either way, it helps to have someone else to help you do the realizing.  The word for that is, “teacher” or “mentor.”

If you’re amazing and know it, fine.  But that’s not learning.  If you’re imperfect and remain clueless about it, that’s not learning either, because you’re still, well, clueless.

The role of the teacher or mentor is to be a “realization specialist.”  Sometimes that means being a passionate encourager.  Sometimes it means being an honest critic.  Always, it means pointing toward excellence and inviting someone to join you on that journey.


Be amazing in your grace.   [click to continue…]


So many random and not-so-random thoughts… so little time…  Here are the latest places and spaces where my mental wheels are turning.  You can find others here, here, and here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


“It takes just as long to be great as to be mediocre.”  -Brian Tracey


 “Every day you live there are more things you are never going to do.” -Al Mohler


Good teachers answer your questions.  Great teachers question your answers.


Have you ever noticed that the people who holler the loudest about grace are the ones who seem to need it the most?  Uh huh. [click to continue…]


(From the forthcoming book, Coach Lightning)

Mention Morris Brown’s name around Jones County, Mississippi to anybody who knew him, and they’ll probably reply, “Oh, you mean Coach?”  Not much chance of somebody piping up and saying, “He was my Social Studies teacher!”

But don’t let the labels fool you.  Coach was always a teacher at heart.  And while a football field or basketball court may have been his favorite classrooms, they certainly weren’t his only ones.  There were precious few, if any, specialists in rural education in the 1950s.  But that was fine with Coach Brown.  He willingly embraced teachable moments wherever the situation called for it.

Just ask Dale Holifield, who grew up on a small farm in Jones County.  At age 11, Dale was so shy he could have been considered antisocial.  Outside of farming, he participated in very few activities.  Even when he went hunting and fishing, he usually did it alone.  All of that changed one summer day at the W. C. Houston grocery store, across from Shady Grove School.  Dale was getting a cold RC cola to drink and chatting with Bubba Houston, the store owner’s son.  The time came for Bubba to go to baseball practice, and he invited Dale to come along.  Dale reluctantly accepted, and joined Bubba at the small practice field behind Bubba’s house.  Hoping not to be noticed, Dale took a seat on the ground under a shade tree to watch the practice.

He didn’t sit very long. [click to continue…]

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December 16, 1983.  I walked across a stage in Ft. Worth, Texas to receive my Get-out-of-Jail degree.  The moving vans had already left town, and when we drove into the parking lot to get my cap and gown, the car was loaded with luggage.  This would be the day I put Texas – and school – in the rearview mirror.  I was sick of both.

But my weariness and frustrations blinded me to some lessons I began to learn as the boxes were put away in our new home in Jackson, Alabama.  I learned that in all my learning, I loved to learn.  And through the years in youth ministry and pastoral leadership, I loved to teach.

That said, I made a shocking discovery recently.  Counting the classes I’m engaged with now, I have taught 54 courses and nearly 775 students on a Master’s, Bachelor’s , or Extension level.

Oh… and I’ve lived in Texas for the last 14 years.

Recently somebody asked me to write out my philosophy of teaching.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn I actually had one.  Here is what I wrote: [click to continue…]


One of the dogwood trees my grandmother and I planted about 35 years ago.

The Leader of the Band is tired, and his eyes are growing old,

But his blood runs through my instrument, and his song is in my soul

My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man

I’m just a living legacy to the Leader of the Band.

-Dan Fogelberg

Alison had that look in her eye.  Half smile, half dead-serious, she walked up and to me and said, “Some of us have been talking.  And we’d like to ask you a favor.”

“What’s that?” I asked cautiously – bracing myself for, well, anything.

“We don’t know either of these people, and we don’t think they knew Grandmother all that well. We were wondering if you would say something – you know, more personal – in the service.”

Alison is my cousin, and she’d just asked the unthinkable – to stand up in front of a couple hundred family and friends and eulogize a family legend.

I’d done plenty of funerals before, but this one was different.  This was family. And not just any family member.  It was Grandmother, for cryin’ out loud. [click to continue…]