Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wright Words: What is a Seventeen Second Miracle?

At long last, The Seventeen Second Miracle isn't just a crazy idea floating around my head. It's finally a novel available in bookstores around the country. I've said this before, but there's nothing quite like "Release Week" for an author.

Of course the book is also available online at these web sites:

Barnes & Noble

So what is a Seventeen Second Miracle?

You're in line at Wal-Mart with enough groceries in your cart to feed the mouths and wipe the noses of everyone living within 50 miles. In fact, your cart is so heavy the wheels haven’t been spinning since the produce department. And if you stack one more Charleston Chew on the mound of groceries, someone from OSHA will appear and demand you wear a back brace while checking out.

Meanwhile, behind you in line, there's a guy buying the travel-size version of Connect Four, a box of Pop Tarts, and a single Yoo-hoo.

Just as you set your first item on the belt you glance backward and notice him. You smile and say, “Sir? Would you like to jump ahead?"

His mouth says, "Well, OK, I guess, if you're sure, why thank you." But his mind says, "Sweet Granola, yes! Thanks, lady!"

You, dear shopper, have just performed a Seventeen Second Miracle.

You and your family are walking into a restaurant or your favorite fast food spot and you see an elderly person eating alone. You ask if they'd like some company and they say yes.

You, fine diner, just performed a Seventeen Second Miracle.

You opened a door for someone? That’s also a Seventeen Second Miracle.

Befriended the new kid at school? There’s another.

Loan someone $5 for lunch? You get the picture. There are opportunities to perform daily miracles all around us. But are we seeing them?

I was fortunate to grow up in a home with a father was constantly looked for opportunities to serve others. Hardly a day passed without him performing some unscheduled act of kindness, some Seventeen Second Miracle for someone in his path.

Earlier this year I set out to write a novel that could give life to these acts of service, these daily miracles. I based the novel in my hometown, Charlottesville, Virginia, and unfolded the action on the same streets and around the familiar landmarks where I saw my father perform countless service miracles.

The novel, of course, is a work of fiction and my father never referred to his knack for service as Seventeen Second Miracles. And, frankly, if he were alive today to give me an earful, he probably would. He didn’t live his life for credit or accolades.

So why seventeen seconds? I’ve come to believe that in many cases that’s all it takes to change the course of someone’s day. Too often we think of how life can turn tragic in a matter of seconds: Car accidents, drownings, bad news from the doctor. But can’t life also turn for the better in the same blink of an eye?

Opening a door takes five seconds, saying hello to the new kid might take ten, and changing a tire might just take twenty minutes. But those are the very best kinds of service. No grade, no ribbon, no certificate. You get nothing but the sweet satisfaction that this time, at least on this occasion, you had your eyes open.

I like to say that with each book I’ve written I’ve taught myself something I’ve long needed to learn. In crafting The Seventeen Second Miracle, I learned that life isn’t so much about the grand organized service projects we undertake at church, school, or in our neighborhoods. They have their value, naturally, but I think a long life’s quilt is made up of much smaller pieces. It’s those few seconds here and there each and everyday that define who we are.

I wish I could say I’m the perfect ambassador for the Seventeen Second Miracle. I’m not. I’m simply thankful that I’m surrounded by generous people who are far greater examples of the power of simple service than I’ll ever be. If my parents, my wife, and my siblings all play professionally in the service big leagues, unceasing in their desire to lighten someone’s burden, then I’m in the pee wee division just hoping someone brought the juice boxes and fruit snacks. Yes, I’ve got a long, long way to go.

Now as I embark on another book tour I’m excited to meet people from Salt Lake to Charlottesville and to hear their experiences. Call them what you like, but every single one of us has been the beneficiary of a daily miracle, a moment of unexpected kindness from someone living their life with their eyes wide open.

So the challenge is this: Will you pledge to perform a daily Seventeen Second Miracle?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wright Words: Saying 'yes' to the green toy ball meetings

I love most Sunday afternoons.

There is nothing quite like coming home after church and knowing that until Monday morning, if you choose, the world exists exclusively inside your home.

Like many of you, we don't shop or eat out on Sundays, and we generally stay close to home base.

Sometimes we'll travel to visit a relative or share dinner with family or friends, but even in those activities, we do our best to treat it as a day of rest. Admittedly, we're not always successful, but we recognize our failures and constantly work toward a better understanding and a tighter embrace of the Sabbath. After years of far-too-casual treatment of his day, it's become a high priority for our family.

If you're actively involved in any church, you know that Sundays are not always strictly for worship. They're also a common day for the administration of church affairs. There are often planning or finance meetings, myriad committees, scheduling sessions and more.

The business of doing God's work, no matter your religion, unavoidably requires us to dip our foot in the world's pool of paperwork, assignments and administration.

My current volunteer assignment in the LDS Church is to serve as the president of the young men's organization covering 11 congregations in the Winchester, Va., area. Every week I have the opportunity to meet, fellowship and teach young men 12 to 18 years old in wonderful places like Woodstock, Front Royal and Berryville. I've never had so much fun serving in church.

This particular assignment, like many others, requires a number of meetings to ensure the needs of the young men in our area are being met.

Are they growing closer to their Heavenly Father? Are they being spiritually fed each week in their respective congregations? What can we, as leaders, do to enhance their growth as men in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

These meetings, held at least once a month, also cover the nuts and bolts of leadership. What activities might we share with the young women?

Who's planning the barbecue next week? Who's designing the poster? Who's inviting the speaker to our next youth conference? Who should be assigned to this or that new committee?

These are important decisions made in important meetings by people with important responsibilities. These sessions are usually enjoyable and productive. I value them and the people who sacrifice to attend.

On a recent Sunday, my family returned from church with fewer scars than normal. There was no pushing, biting or screaming. No animal cracker wars. No shoes tossed three pews forward. It was a complete, and rare, peaceful and successful trip to worship in the church we love so dearly.

After mom's famous nachos for lunch and a quick discussion about the busy week ahead — we call it Family Council in the tradition of my own mom and dad — the kids disappeared to read, color, play with toys, etc.

My youngest went to his room to play with his treasure-of-the-moment, a green toy ball he'd been carrying and sleeping with for days.

As for my wife and me, we found ourselves sitting in the living room rehashing the morning at church and enjoying the unusually quiet Sabbath afternoon.

Then I looked at my watch.

"You have a meeting today, don't you?" she asked.

Sigh. "I do."

"All the way at the chapel in Winchester?" It was another question she already knew the answer to. She also knew very well it's a 40-minute round-trip drive.


"You need to be there?"

"I do."

And with that I stood up, slowly retied my tie, and trudged back upstairs to retrieve the suit coat I'd tossed upon the bed.

Then it happened.

As I walked back out of my room, my 3-year-old son met me in the doorway. He was wearing his favorite crocodile shirt with red flannel snapping jaws and green shorts. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"I have a meeting, bud."

"A meeting?"

"Yes, a church meeting. I'll be home tonight."

Then with pure childlike innocence he pulled his green toy ball from his pocket and said, "But there's a meeting in my room, Daddy."

"There is?" The lump in my throat felt like an 8-pound bowling ball.

"Yes," he said. "It's a green toy ball meeting. And it's reaaaaaally important."

Ouch. Make that 12 pounds.

I knelt down and he opened his skinny fingers, one of them sticky with leftover nacho cheese. In his palm he held his prized green toy ball.

Looking back, I sure wish I'd said something profound. Instead, with tears racing to form drops and a pit in my stomach, I simply gave him a hug and promised to be home by bedtime. Then I closed his fingers back around the ball, patted his lowered head and sank down the stairs.

Ten minutes later, I rolled out of the driveway and headed to a meeting I hardly remember attending. I'm sure it was productive, and I'm sure important decisions were made.

I've thought of that afternoon almost every afternoon since. I love my church responsibilities and the opportunities I have to serve the Lord and the youths around me. Serving them brings me closer to him. Of that I have no doubt.

But what happens when the meetings and planning and planning more meetings becomes more important than the people we serve? At what point do I — or you — allow those we love the most to become low priority items on life's agenda?

I love the Lord. I love his gospel. I love the people with whom I worship every week. I'm especially grateful for the amazing young men I work so closely with and for whom I pray for their success and well-being.

But in the very end, when the meetings have concluded and the benedictions have been said, when the only one across the table is the Judge, the Holy One, the Redeemer of Mankind, I suspect my attendance at the administrative councils of life and religion will matter much less than the number of times I said "yes" to the green toy ball meetings.

I can't wait for the next one.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guess the number, win a copy of The Seventeen Second Miracle

Exactly two weeks to go until the release of The Seventeen Second Miracle. No better way to celebrate than to give away an advance copy.

Inside this jar are wrist bands that say, "I believe in the Seventeen Second Miracle." (click on image to enlarge)

Guess how many bands are in the jar. Closest to the actual number (without going over) wins a book and a band. Be sure to include name and city/state.

Check back tomorrow for results. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Want an advance copy of SSM?

To celebrate my Seventeenth Anniversary during the month the Seventeen Second Miracle is released, let's give away another advance copy of the book.

In the comments below, tell me in exactly seventeen words why you deserve the advance, VIP copy. Good luck!

As always, include your first name, city and state. (Those don't count against your 17 words.)