Eleven years ago, an editor asked me to interview then Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore about his faith.
During the interview, Moore told me about a friend who’d given him a book called Words of Wisdom — a 31-day devotional that only includes text from the Psalms and Proverbs. It’s broken down into daily readings of five psalms and one proverb.
Working through it in a month means he was able to read all 150 psalms and all 31 proverbs. And he’d been doing so for years. He even taped pictures of his relatives and friends throughout the book so he could remember to pray for them.
“When I get up in the morning, I’ll pour myself a cup of coffee and I won’t read a newspaper,” Moore said. “I won’t watch the news. I won’t read a flyer that may be laying there. I won’t read anything until I’ve read my five psalms and one proverb. I haven’t been a hundred percent, but I’ve started nearly every day that way since 1989.”
He went on to give the book to hundreds of his players. In each one, he inscribed the following F. B. Meyer quote: “Let the first moments of the day, when the heart is fresh, be given to God. Never see the face of man till you have seen the King.”
Imagine my surprise when he offered to send me a copy (it had a different title, but essentially, it’s the same book). And I got a little teary when I opened it and saw the Meyer quote, written in Moore’s handwriting. Coach Moore also had my first name engraved on the cover in gold lettering.
The one name you won't find on or in the book? Jerry Moore’s.
I’ve been going through a dry patch in my private worship recently, so I pulled the book down and began working my way through it. I’m a week into it and it's having its way with me, offering refreshment and correction, and leading me into a spirit of worship.
If you’ve never gone through the psalms and proverbs in a month, give it a try. You don’t have to order Words of Wisdom to do so. You can use your own Bible or an online version.
If you’re interested in reading the entire story about Moore, here's a link: ASU coach relies heavily on the word.
I believe that favorite books, like favorite anythings, find us, rather than the other way around. We need them, and they find a way into our hands. You can spend a lot of time searching, and there’s certainly a lot of fun in that, but finding the one is sort of like finding your future spouse. You bump into her for the first time when you least expect it—like when you are buying hemorrhoid cream at Walgreens or when you break your ankle and you meet the prettiest nurse you’ve ever seen.
My first favorite book found me later in life—when I was thirty-two, which, I have to say, gives me hope that I’ll still actually find a wife. That's not to say I didn't have other favorite books before that, but none that spoke to me on such a deep level as the one I'm about to tell you about.
I was at my first writers’ conference in 1998, taking the fiction writing track by novelist Nancy Moser, when she recommended a series of novels by Jan Karon called The Mitford Series. She said it was the perfect escape. I jotted down the series title and picked up the first book, At Home in Mitford, when I returned home. She was right, but it was more than an escape for me. It was a lifeline.
Most people know what they want to do by the age of thirty-two and they are well on their way. I didn’t have a clue. I was working in a bank, and that was a fine job, but it wasn’t really a career. People my age didn’t really think about finding a career, though. We needed a job, so we looked for one and once we found one, we stayed there until the next job opportunity came along. When I took a couple of days off to attend the writers’ conference, I had no way of knowing the writing bug would bite me, thanks largely to Moser’s class, and partially to her Mitford Series recommendation.
The tagline on the first book is “Enter the world of Mitford, and you won’t want to leave.” Three pages into the book, you’ll find that it’s true.
By then, Father Tim, a bachelor rector, leaves the coffee-scented warmth of the Main Street Grill and heads for work at his church, Lord’s Chapel, hoping for an ordinary day. He ambles down the street in a way that sounds like a scaled-down version of John Travolta’s walk in Staying Alive. Father Tim surrenders “himself to the stolen joy of it, as some might eat half a box of chocolates at one sitting, without remorse.”
As he arrives at the office, he whispers the same short prayer he has been praying for twelve years: “Father, make me a blessing to someone today, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Just as he inserts the key, a mud-caked dog (he’ll eventually name Barnabas) the size of a Buick licks him on the hand and his face, tempting the pastor to swear. Father Tim combats that by citing Ephesians 4:29 in a loud voice: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but which is good to the use of edifying …” Before he can finish, Barnabas sits down. We later learn that Barnabas always responds to scripture when it is read out loud.
Emma Garrett, Father’s Tim’s secretary, arrives and chases Barnabas away, temporarily. Once they both get inside, Father Tim realizes the formerly gray-haired woman, “full of the promise of spring” has dyed her hair red. This is not going to be any ordinary day. His life gets even more interesting when his attractive new neighbor, Cynthia Coppersmith, moves in and catches his eye, and when an unloved boy named Dooley Barlowe shows up one day and touches his heart.
C.S. Lewis once said, “We read to know we are not alone.” When I lose myself in the fictional town of Mitford, I realize I’m just a younger version of Father Tim. I don’t live in a small town. I’m not in my sixties. I’m not Episcopalian. I’m certainly not a priest, but yet, I identify with him, and identifying with him makes me feel less alone. I know that Father Tim doesn’t exist, but he is as real to me as my next-door neighbors.
This is an excerpt from my essay book, Sacred Grounds: First Loves, First Experiences, and First Favorites. I'd love to hear how your first favorite book found you.
A friend and her husband had me over for dinner one night this week. Partway through the meal, she asked us to read the question on the conversation starter napkin by our plates and then offer an answer.
Each person takes a turn answering all of the questions.
The question on my napkin was something like, “What was the most outrageous part of your day?”
I'd spent the entire day in my office, so nothing came to mind. Plus, I don’t do outrageous. And I would have preferred a 24-hour notice of said napkin question, as any good introvert desires. I’m only partially kidding.
I had nothing to offer on that particular question. But later, I jumped in and answered other people’s questions after having some time to think about my answers.
Years ago, I owned a conversation starter book called 4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone. A couple of friends and I had fun with it one night over coffee, but that was about the extent of its use.
The conversation starter napkin idea, though, is brilliant. It encourages deep conversation around the dinner table, and that’s what happened the other night.
We laughed. We may have cried a little, too. And in the end, we inched a little closer to one another. You can’t beat a night like that.
I hope you have a similar one soon.
I’m a sentimentalist. I’m also an introvert. The two probably go hand in hand. For me, the combination means I feel on a deep level. I just don’t always show it. In fact, I rarely show it.
That’s why writing is such a great outlet for me. And that’s why I wrote the three essay books in the Finding Common Ground series.
In “Common Grounds” (the first book in the series), I explored loss and loneliness.
Generally, I’m not quick to talk about either one, but stumbling into a coffee shop that had a motto of “Alone No Longer” prompted me to write about a conversation I had with a friend named Shawn. I made a point about why a particular style of music meant so much to me and Shawn understood. And his understanding chased my loneliness away.
In “Sacred Grounds” (the second book in the series), I reminisced about first loves, first experiences and first favorites.
In it, I said that first love awakens a person inside. Before first love, life is about externals, like fart jokes, baseball cards, and riding bicycles over ramps to see how many pop cans you could clear. At least that’s how it was for me as a teenage boy.
But when first love comes along, it awakens possibility, acceptance, hope, and the strong desire to please and protect the other person. Fart jokes, baseball cards, and riding bicycles over ramps while pretending to be Evel Knievel become childish things of the past.
In “Higher Grounds” (the third book in the series), I wrote about God showing up in the most unlikely of places.
In that book, I wrote about the time my small group at church visited a nursing home to sing Christmas carols.
Doors began to open, and residents peeked out. I kept wondering if we were interrupting somebody’s favorite TV show, but other than during the brief Victoria’s Secret ad (in which the men tuned us out), we seemed to have everyone’s attention. Residents began to wave at us. We waved back and kept singing as we migrated down the next hall.
A door creaked opened behind the woman with whom I was sharing a song sheet. At first, I thought one of us might have leaned against it, but it was just a curious resident. He waited until we were finished singing and then thanked us. One holy moment after another was taking place as the power of music literally opened doors and caused strangers to acknowledge one another.
So you can see why I’m so passionate about these books. The messages in them are the essence of who I am, what I’ve experienced, and what I believe. I have a feeling they will prompt many of your own memories, too.
I’ve combined all three books into one volume and have made it available at a discount. If you are interested, you can pick up the e-book or print version from your retailer of choice. If you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts after you’ve read it.
I’ve seen the hunched over man, who is maybe 80 years old, at the gym a couple of times lately. He wears dress pants and long-sleeved shirts with his sleeves rolled up.
A couple of weeks ago, he worked the pedals on an exercise bike, slowly pumping his way to better circulation.
Yesterday, he walked past me while I was on the treadmill. I didn’t see which machine he’d been on, but it didn’t really matter. He was there again, and I was impressed.
He doesn’t dress or look the part of a stereotypical gym member. Neither do I. But we’re both still there, putting in the miles.
I’m guessing you are, too, in some form or fashion.
Don’t stop. There’s too much at stake.