You Should Try A Story Night With Your Family

Rachel stood by the Audi watching Raylan, Raylan the show. Watching him facing Coover holding the bright-metal piece at his leg. Watched Coover swing the rat by the tail and let it go and saw it coming at her to land on the hood of the Audi. Rachel didn't move. Raylan didn't either, didn't glance around. 
But said, "Coover, you throw a dead rat at my car. What're you trying to tell me?" 
Rachel unsnapped the holster riding on her hip. 
Coover said, "Take it any way you want, long as you know I'm serious." 
"You're telling me you're one mean son of a bitch," Raylan said to his face. "You know how many wanted felons have given me that look? I say a thousand I know I'm low. Some turn ugly as I snap on the cuffs; they're too late. Some others, I swear, even try to draw down on me. All I'm asking, how'd you come to take Angel's kidneys?"

The world of Elmore Leonard is as rich in characters and story as it is witty dialogue. I settled on this classic from his novel Raylan because I read it in January. You may be familiar with it because FX created the TV series called Justified based on his main character, Raylan Givens. 

Leonard was a master at dialogue. He had a way of making you forget you were reading. It's easy to spend three hours turning pages right in the middle of the action without noticing.  

Good writing does that to you. It pulls you in and doesn't let go. I haven't particularly enjoyed reading fiction for most of my life. I considered myself far too serious a person to waste my time on silly fiction. 

Then at the tender age of twenty-eight Lee Child and his iconic character, Jack Reacher came into my life. Here was a larger than life character that reminded me of my uncle George, right down to the former Army MP background. It grabbed me by the throat and pulled me into the world I'd long abandoned. 

I read over 30 fiction books that year. I was back in the fiction reading business. I've sought to make up for lost time since turning the page on my first Reacher novel two years ago. From The Hobbit to Harry Potter I've been swimming in the seas of tall tales and loving every second of it. It's brought color and light to my reading life, where once were only the dreary shadows of the real world. 

It's all about storytelling for me. I enjoy getting lost in the sights, sounds, and memories of another. Be it a novel, short story or fireside chat, storytelling is a tradition we've lost touch with over the years. 

How often to we gather around the living room for no other purpose but the telling of stories? We're usually talking over one another and half listening as we go. That's why I'm especially grateful for a tradition Hannah's family started this past year called Story Night. 

It's exactly what you're picturing. After dinner, we'll gather around with coffee, water or hot tea and take turns telling tales. This isn't the free for all you're most likely picturing. It's an ordered process designed to help us learn to not simply to tell good stories, but to listen.  

Here are the ground rules: 

1.) Participation is voluntary - If someone doesn't want to share a story, they're welcome to skip doing so.  
2.) The speaker has the floor - Whoever is talking has the floor, no exceptions. They have 5-10 mins of uninterrupted time to share their story. It can be a story they've prepared, a song, or a tale from their childhood. What matters is that while they are talking, no one else may jump in. 
3.) Questions are welcome - After the storyteller has completed their turn, others in the room can ask as many questions as they want. Sometimes this time is even better than the stories. You get to hear all the behind the details on how they chose their topic and why. 
Story Night is one of my favorite nights. Sometimes I read something I've written and other times I don't prepare anything at all. It's a beautiful tradition full of fun, and laughter that I can't get enough of.   

3 Things Every Healthy Marriage Talks About

My wife Hannah and I are a great team. We run our own business together, serve together at our church, and split most household chores evenly. We are truly better together. Something about the way our personalities, gifts and talents weave together forms something stronger, and more capable than either of us individually.

We are constantly communicating with each other over any number of things; shoots we’re working on, client meetings that need to be scheduled and every little detail that needs following up on to run a successful business. It takes a lot of time, and good communication patterns to pull it off.

If we aren’t careful however, the business could quickly become all we talk about morning, noon, and night. Much like parents have to remain vigilant to talk about things other than their kids, small business owners have to fight the temptation to make life revolve around the business. Far too many sacrifice relationships, personal health and family at the altar of a success. They lose themselves in their work, and talk shop around the clock. It takes a lot of work, patience and solid communication patterns to build a business while fighting for a good marriage.          

I recently sat down with Hannah to talk about it all. Communication plays such a pivotal role in the health and strength of all our relationships, especially marriage. I wanted to better understand exactly what our communication patterns are, and get her take on what we do that helps us maintain balance. I also wanted to hear exactly where we need to improve.  

The major theme of our conversation was that communication was as vital to the health of our marriage as water is to the body—it’s a must. “One of the biggest reasons relationships don’t succeed,” Hannah said, “is the lack of communication.” Failing to communicate about any number of things creates not just tension but division. It allows two people to live in separate worlds, doing there own thing. “It is vital,” Hannah continued, “that husband and wife communicate on a daily basis, not just staying on the surface, but what’s on their hearts, minds, worries, fears, future goals and dreams.” Discussing the weather, and the score of the game isn’t enough—you’ve got to dive deeper. Talk about everything going on in your world—what’s got you worried or excited, what’s driving you crazy, and what you’re looking forward to.      

“I think this is something,” Hannah said, “we do really well now, but haven’t always.” We make time each week to have deeper, heart-level conversations, but we haven’t always. Early in our marriage, I worked long hours, and spent most of my day driving to and from the office. Each night I’d work on our business—doing the books, client meetings, etc.—and on the weekends we’d shoot a wedding. Our schedule never stopped, it was always go, go, go, and I thought we were communicating well enough.

Most of our conversations revolved around work, and our business—we had little time to talk about other things. At least, that’s what I thought. In reality, I wasn’t being intentional or creating time for deeper conversations by asking good questions. I was on cruise control. Fast forward a few years, and we’ve landed on a pretty good rhythm. “I enjoy,” Hannah shared, “that we go on at least one walk a day with our pups and just have that ½ hour of quality talk time.” It doesn’t have to be long, but finding time to talk about deeper things breaths life into your marriage. We use this time to talk about everything. When asked what she found most helpful and exciting about them, Hannah mentioned “Future goals, where we are in our business, finances, how we can serve each other each week, fears, excitements about having a baby.”  

Conversation #1: Money 

Everyone has a different story and history regarding finances. Some have handled things extremely well and others haven’t. Either way, finances are one of the handful of topics you can’t avoid talking about. The stakes are too high. One little mistake can land everyone in trouble. That’s why Hannah and I take a look at our budget every week. “This is an awesome way,” Hannah said, “for us to know what our week will look like. Date night out or in? Where are we doing great and where can we do better? I am thankful for a husband who is organized and always on top of our finances, even when I am not.”

Every Monday, I sit down and update our budget. At some point that day, I’ll share how we are doing with Hannah. We talk about what areas are on track, and what areas we need to keep an eye on. “Don’t be afraid,” Hannah said, “of these conversations. Lean into them, learn from past mistakes and have weekly chats to keep short accounts. Being a team means being honest and open especially in the tough conversations.” We’ve found that talking about finances on a regular basis, keeps us on the same page, and avoids that big blow up fight about being way over budget.  

Conversation #2: Calendar

Early each week, Hannah and I sit down to go over what’s on the calendar for the coming week. “It helps us know,” Hannah said, “what’s going on in the other person’s world and how we can serve and pray for one another. It allows us to always be on the same page and align expectations.” Our weekly schedule conversations give us each insight into how we can care for the other. If I know Hannah has a ton of photo shoots in the coming week, I’ll know that it would serve her well for me to take care of the dog stuff and have dinner started before she gets home. If she has important meetings or just a full schedule, I’ll know how I can be praying for her. Talk about your schedules, sync your calendars, and discuss what you’ve got going on.  

Conversation #3: Expectations

While finances and schedules might be once a week conversations, we have a series of ongoing talks throughout the week about expectations. These are some of the most important one to two minute discussions we have each day.  “We all have expectations,” Hannah explains, “about what our day will look like whether we know it or not.” Everyone has an expectation about everything. “It can be as simple,” Hannah continued, “as asking what each other’s expectation is for dinner one night.” Expectations don’t have to be these big, ambiguous things. It’s usually the little one’s that cause the biggest trouble. “Simply talking about what you expect,” Hannah said “reduces the likelihood of frustration.” You may find that you had differing expectations about certain things, that if left uncommunicated could lead to conflict. Get those things out on the table, in a casual manner so you can get on the same page. Develop the habit of regularly asking one another what your expectations are.  

How are we doing?

I asked Hannah how she would grade our communication. “An 8.” Hannah said, “We could always do better.” That’s a point worth discussing—there’s always room for improvement. No matter how hard you work, or how much time you’ve been together, you can do better. None of us will ever reach the mountaintop on this one, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Go for a walk, curl up on the couch with a blanket and some soft music playing or have a private dinner just the two of you. Talk about all the things going on in your world, share your hopes and fears. Hopefully there will be areas you can celebrate. “We do great, Hannah shares, “discussing future goals, business plans and day to day expectations.” Relish those victories. Inevitably there will also be stuff to work on. “We could continue,” Hannah said, “working on taking the next step in talking about how we are doing relationally and spiritually.”

Don’t get down when things like this pop up. Lean in and work on them. In the end, be excited that you’re working together and heading in a new and better direction.  

A Quick Simple Way To Improve At Sharing Your Faith

You're constantly surrounded by and bumping into people who don't know Christ. That person sitting next to you on the plane, in a coffee shop or standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Many of them don't know Christ, and might even be hostile to the gospel. You know you should talk to them about spiritual things, you may even want to, but for this reason or that you don't. Maybe you don't know where to begin or fear you won't be able to handle the objections they might throw out. 

Don't worry, you aren't alone. Most of us have been there at one time or another. I certainly have. 

Your heart's pounding like it'll jump out of your chest at any second, your palms are clamming up with sweat, and your knees are shaking like a leaf in the wind.  Voice trembling all along, you turn and say,

"Hello. I'm Scotty. What's your name?"

"Hi Scotty, great to meet you. My name's Eric."

Now what? You've introduced yourself and engaged them in conversation at the most basic level, but haven't a clue what say next.

"What do you believe about God?" You quickly stammer out.

"God? Only cotton headed ninny muggins believe in that stuff."


How do you respond? What do you say next? I doubt a real conversation would be this direct, and that the response of an atheist would include a reference to Elf, but it does have a ring of truth to it doesn't it.

We've all been party to or witnessed some awkward version of the above exchange. We mean well, and are willing to step up to the plate, but we haven't the first clue what to do once we get there. Most of the time we don't even get the bat off our shoulder.

Why is that? Don't we have deeply held convictions and reasoned arguments to support what we believe about God, The Bible and reality? Of course we do. The problem is that we don't have a clear, concise game plan. Think about it. Every great success in the world has a plan and works it. They craft it carefully and are ready when the moment strikes. The same is true when it comes to having spiritual conversations, its a pretty good idea to have a game plan. 

Greg Koukl has done the heavy lifting for us. He has carefully and thoughtfully crafted a game plan to help followers of Christ engage the world around them in a wise and gracious fashion. This game plan can be located in his book, Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions. 

Today, I want to share with you some of the most helpful and insightful aspects of Greg's book. Insights that I hope and pray will help you in your conversations this week, and encourage you to run grab your own copy of Tactics

Let's get down to business and discuss 

1. Leave a stone in their shoe

Greg completely shatters many of the preconceived notions too many of us have when it comes to evangelism. Early on he compels us to start thinking of spiritual conversations in a new light and to readjust our goals from getting to a full on gospel presentation in each and every conversation to "put a stone in someone's shoe". What does this odd but catchy phrase mean? It means leaving the other person with something worth thinking about, something that just gnaws at them in a good way.  

2. Get good at asking questions

By asking carefully selected questions you accomplish several things at the same time. You gain control of the conversation, keep it moving forward and keep things civil. Again the goal isn't to share the gospel in each and every conversation, it is to ask the right question and plant the right seed to get the other person thinking. Questions are one of the best vehicles for encouraging thoughtful dialogue. They are non threatening, friendly, and flattering. People love to share their opinion, its just that so few people ever take the time to ask. 

Question 1: "What do you mean by that?" 

Make them spell out their own view, specifically. In order to have a thoughtful conversation, you need to understand the other person's views. This question helps you gather valuable information on exactly what they think. Instead of staggering through the conversation assuming you know what they mean by this or that, this question is designed to help you get it straight from the horses mouth. You'll be surprised how often you're assumptions are wrong. Better still, you get them to spell it out in exact terms. No more guess work on your part. 

Question 2: "How did you come to that conclusion?"

They've made a claim and presented a view, now its time to make them defend it. It's not your job to refute their claim, it's up to them to prove it. Ask them to explain what has led them to drawing their particular conclusions. Intelligent views have supporting reasons. Make them spell these out. 

3. Plan ahead

There are certain topics that you can reasonably assume will come up as you're out and about. If you sat down for more than 10 mins. you could come up with dozens of objections that will be thrown your way. Get ready for them. If Adrian Beltre knew the next pitch was a fastball down the middle of the plate, you can be certain it'll end up about 20 rows deep. He's flat hit it out of the park. And so should you. Take some time to formulate and practice responses to common objections. This is where modern technology come in handy. Create notes in your favorite note taking app containing common questions, arguments and claims with your responses. That way you have them right there in your pocket everywhere you go. 

No one said evangelism would be easy stuff. Sometimes it leads to some down right nasty encounters. No matter how rude people are, or how poorly we think we've done it, hopefully we'll have left a stone in their shoe that gets them thinking. I have only scratched the surface on the immense help Greg provides in Tactics. It is one of those rare books that becomes a resource you will return to time and again the minute you finish it.