Read an Excerpt
No Easy Steps Foreword
I set out to write a book just for you. It's filled with real stories about real people. As you read I'm sure you will recognize some places where details have been added or exaggerated to make the reading more fun, and occasionally names have been changed to protect the privacy of people involved.
I want this book to provide genuine hope and encouragement for your life. I hope you'll spit coffee across the room as you laugh at the truth on these pages. I also hope you'll occasionally reach for a tissue to wipe a cleansing tear from your eyes. And it could be that every now and then, you'll spit coffee into the tissue as you laugh and cry simultaneously. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your reading. The lessons drawn from each story still hold the power to jolt your life. Most of all, I hope these stories will lighten your load and brighten your day.
I spent much of my life trying unsuccessfully to live up to unrealistic expectations --- and pretending I'd already achieved them. The whole thing left me wading in guilt and totally confused. Was I the only one struggling with the process of becoming everything God created me to be? Everyone else seemed to have it all together. Even my friends maintained the perception of perfection.
Then, every once in a while, someone would come clean. And their moments of honesty were never discouraging. They were never the pity-party, misery-loves-company, muck-wading experiences you might expect. Instead, they were a refreshing affirmation of some important truths. I was not an aberration of nature. Life was actually a process for other human beings as well as for me.
It was also wonderful to realize that God is at work in the lives of imperfect people. Hope is the end result of seeing people be honest about their lives. If God cares about imperfect people, then he cares about me. What an encouragement to discover he has the power and he'll help me change --- one step at a time. This process of change can only begin as we let people into our lives --- as I'll be letting you into my life in the book you're holding.
My friend Carol Maxwell tells about an encounter she had with an intoxicated friend. Carol was seeking to build solid relationships. She'd grown tired of superficial conversations and surface friendships. One night at a party, a bleary-eyed acquaintance ambled up, drink in hand, and inquired, 'How are you doing?' Then, without waiting for Carol's answer, the woman turned and waved at someone across the room.
The insincerity was too much. Instead of responding in kind, Carol rebelled. She smiled and replied, in normal conversational cadence, 'Hey, diddle diddle. The cat and the fiddle. The cow jumped over the moon.'
Her acquaintance noticed nothing irregular. She wasn't even listening. As Carol finished, the woman touched her arm gently and responded, 'How nice!' Then she set off for another corner, another face, another meaningless conversation.
Mother Goose? Why not? Carol could have offered a full confession to murdering her husband and spooning him into the garbage disposal. She would have received the same reply --- 'How nice!' Yes, I know that people with dulled senses make easy targets; yet we're all victims of the same social disconnection. Why do we seem to lack the time or courage to connect meaningfully with those around us?
Try this simple test. Hang out in the lobby of your church one Sunday. You're likely to meet someone like Bill Jones, who's struggling to keep his life together. As his marriage crumbles, he's drifting into an affair. Bill stands at one of those great crossroads in life. What he needs is someone to help him put his life in perspective --- to warn him of the treacherous cliff he's approaching.
As people mill about in their Sunday best, Samuel Carter steps forward. Samuel has just been laid off and his daughter has been expelled from school for using drugs. 'How's it going, Bill?' Samuel asks, a broad smile and a firm handshake obscuring his insecurity and fear.
'Things are great,' Bill lies. 'How about for you?'
'Same old grind,' Samuel responds. He doesn't hint at the depth and pain of that grind. He simply puts in a moment or two of small talk punctuated by his best wishes. Then two men who desperately need each other go their separate ways, never connecting.
I remember attending a horrible party. A broken heart makes any celebration intolerable, and I didn't want to be there. I was in a room full of strangers, and I was hurting as badly as I'd ever hurt in my life. I was relieved to see the face of a friend who I knew would have a sympathetic ear. He spotted me too and began to make his way toward me through the crowd.
My life was a mess, and I desperately needed encouragement. I needed a foothold so I could begin to climb out of the terrible pit I was in. 'It's so good to see you,' I said, embracing my friend and clasping his hand firmly in mine. 'How are you?'
'If I were any better, I'd be twins,' he bubbled.
My heart tipped up on end and began to sink like the Titanic. I was falling to pieces and my soul was in shreds. My spirit didn't have enough substance to be a shadow. How could I relate to someone so on top of things that he'd cloned himself into twins? I knew there'd be no healing that night.
'How 'bout you?' he inquired.
'Never been better,' I lied.
Several days later I caught my friend alone. This time I dared to pour out my soul, and he was indeed a friend. He listened, he cried, and he prayed with me. He also told me the truth. His bubbly exterior at the party had been a trick done with smoke and mirrors. Behind the cheerful, not-a-care-in-the-world exterior, he too was struggling. The twins were gone; he became an only child again.
In the midst of pretending, we'd almost missed each other.