So there I was, on the phone with my friend Daniel. Daniel is an old pal. He lives in southeastern Montana, a father of four, and he is Cheyenne.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m never sure what the appropriate term is; whether to call Daniel a Native American, an American Indian, or what.

Daniel clears things up with a laugh, “Just call me Cheyenne. It’s what I am.”

I dialed him yesterday so that I could get in touch with Daniel’s grandfather, who happened to be puttering around Daniel’s house.

When the elderly man got on the phone, his voice was soft, dry, and worn, like old leather.

“Hallo?” said the aged man.

I reintroduced myself.

“You’re who?” he said.

“You probably don’t remember meeting me, it was a long time ago.”

Then I asked the old man if he would do me a favor. I asked if he would recite a Native prayer I once heard him pray at a Presbyterian wedding when I was young. I asked him to offer a prayer of peace. For a friend.

“Peace,” he said

soberly. “Nanomónestôtse. Who is it that needs peace?”

So I told the elder all about it. I guess I might as well tell you, too.

My friend is named Tiffany. Although, technically, I’ve never met her. But then you don’t have to know someone to be their friend.

She is thirty-three years young, freckled, redheaded, and right now, she is located roughly 1,702 miles away from the old man’s Montana living room, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Right now her infant daughter is in the neonatal intensive care unit with meningitis. Tiffany, her husband, and family are living across the street from Erlanger Hospital in the Ronald McDonald House, trying to stay sane.

“Mmmmm,” said the Cheyenne man. “That poor family.”

The day Tiffany’s daughter was born went sour in a hurry. Not long after the glowing success of…

It was late. The young man was sitting on the edge of his cheap motor-inn bed, staring at the mildewed wallpaper. He was weeping.

There was a small orange bottle of pills on the nightstand. He kept glancing at them.

His was a long story, one you’ve probably heard a million-and-one times. He simply couldn’t get out of his malicious brain. He could not exit the dark place.

Ultimately, this wasn’t his fault. It never is, you see. That’s the unspoken lie we feed people about their mental health problems. “This is all your fault.” When the truth is, life thrusts itself upon you. Our circumstances are dished out to us like bowlfuls of cold gruel. Eat up.

But he was finished suffering. He was really going to do it this time. No chickening out. There was no point to living. Not anymore. Ergo: the pills.

He flipped on the blaring motel TV for distraction, and casually opened the nightstand drawer. He didn’t know why he was opening the drawer. Probably just stalling.

Then again, maybe he opened

the drawer because on some level, he knew it would be there.

Yep. There it was.

A book in the drawer. Harbound. Crimson cover. The gilded symbol of a two-handled pitcher and a torch embossed on the cover.

All at once a memory came back. In his child-mind he could recall a white-haired gentleman visiting his second-grade classroom. The old man was passing out miniature pleather-bound books of the New Testament to students.

The old man had explained that his organization distributed these books to prisons, violence shelters, schools, EMTs, jails, military facilities, nursing homes, hospitals.

And, of course, motels.

The young man began to sob. He wiped his tears, then weighed the cumbersome book in his hand. Loose leaf notebook pages fell onto the floor. Lots of pages.

“What in the…?”

It wasn’t just one page. It wasn’t just two. It…

I was recently invited to participate as a guest judge for the Pensacola EggFest barbecue competition, an event which raises lots of money for charity, and spikes my LDL into the critical zone.

This was my fourth consecutive year as an expert judge, although to be quite honest, the extent of my official barbecue knowledge is, hey, barbecue tastes good.

That’s not to say that I’m not qualified in the area of smoked meat. I am, inasmuch as I eat so much barbecue my gastroenterologist has disowned me.

Either way, competitive barbecue critiquing is tough work. Yesterday, for example, I showed up to Blue Wahoo Stadium bright and early before the competition, ready for a long day. No sooner had my fellow judges arrived than we were all required to sample peanut-butter flavored bourbon from a contestant who also happened to be running for public office.

“Bottoms up, y’all,” said the politician, who was already repouring a few cups.

This is the kind of dedication you find among our committed barbecue experts. And

this is exactly why the EggFest competition is one of the highlights of my year.

Because this isn’t a pretentious contest with snooty judges carrying around food-grade thermometers shoved in their rear pockets. This is an easygoing contest with loud music and the occasional competitor whose breath fumes are highly flammable.

This is nothing like the other barbecue contests I’ve judged before. In the past I have had the opportunity to be a guest official for a few uppercrust barbecue competitions alongside actual Kansas City Barbecue Society certified judges. One team I was with was like the IRS of the competitive barbecue world.

I remember we judges had to walk around the fairgrounds in tight V-formation, refusing to smile or wave at any entrants. We weren’t even allowed to have secret code names.

We were expected to evaluate dishes based on texture, marinade salinity, bone-in guidelines, plate…

Let’s talk about confidence. Self-confidence. Not the corny brand of confidence found in many self-help books where you repeat a motivational key phrase before the mirror for guaranteed success—or your money back!

No, I’m talking about the kind of unwavering confidence found within exceptional people who routinely sing karaoke or pass highway patrol vehicles on the interstate. Confidence.

I bring up this subject because today I was standing in line at the supermarket when I met a retired psychologist. She was mid-eighties, with white hair and Coke-bottle glasses. Her name was Doctor Don’t-You-Dare-Use-My-Real-Name.

We got to talking and I casually asked the old physician which mental health problems she encountered most during her career.

Her answer came quickly. “Lack of confidence.”

“Really?” I said.

“Definitely,” she said as our cashier was ringing up the old woman’s—I swear—box of prunes.

I was surprised by her answer. I was expecting her to say the most frequent disorders were anxiety, depression, or as in my case, clinically obsessive avoidance of mowing my lawn.

“Well,” answered the shrink. “Lack of confidence is

a problem that helps fuels those other problems. People who quit believing in themselves fall apart or they overcompensate. Both are dangerous.”

Statistically, two thirds of Americans suffer from lack of self-confidence. In one study, researchers found that a quarter of people under age 35 admitted to disliking themselves. And in a recent survey eight out of ten teenage girls admitted to practically hating themselves.

“Lack of confidence isn’t just a little problem,” said the clinician. “It’s the iceberg that sank the Titanic.”

By now, the cashier and everyone else in line was listening to our conversation as the doc went on to explain that most people without confidence have lost the ability to think positively. Which is a fatal problem.

“Unconfident people don’t believe anything good can happen to them personally. They don’t feel they deserve good things. They don’t believe…

Hi. This is your late loved one speaking. I don’t have long, so listen up because I have a lot I want to tell you.

First off, I get it.

Ever since I left this world you have missed me, and I know you’re bracing for the holidays without me. No matter what anyone says, this year’s festivities are going to be really tough.

In fact, let’s be honest, this festive season will probably suck pondwater. But then, Thanksgiving and Christmas are tough holidays for a lot of people. You’re not alone.

See, the misconception about the holidays is that they are one big party. That’s what every song on the radio claims. Each television commercial you see shows happy families clad in gaudy Old Navy sweaters, carving up poultry, smiling their perfect Hollywood teeth at the camera. But that’s not exactly reality.

In reality, fifty-eight percent of Americans admit to feeling severely depressed and anxious during November and December. In reality many folks will cry throughout the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Well, guess what?

Nobody is crying up here in heaven. This place is unreal. There is, literally, too much beauty to take in. Way too much.

For starters—get this—time doesn’t even exist anymore. Which I’m still getting used to.

Right now, for all I know, the calendar year down on Earth could be 1728, 4045, 1991, or 12 BC. It really wouldn’t matter up here. This is a realm where there is no ticking clock, no schedule. Up here there is only this present moment. This. Here. Now. That’s all there has ever been. And there is real comfort in this.

I know this all seems hard to grasp, but if you were here you’d get it.

Also, for the first time I’m pain free. I feel like a teenager again in my body. You probably don’t realize how long I’ve lived with pain because I…

I am sitting on a boat indoors. I’m in a large marine showroom, in Pensacola, Florida, where they are holding a high-brow culinary competition cookoff. I am on this pontoon because I am an introvert and I’m hiding even though, technically, I’m one of the contest judges.

Of course, it’s bad luck to sit on a boat that’s on dry land. Any sailor will tell you. Even so, I have no choice but to sit aboard because there is nowhere else to put my beverage.

This is a huge party. There are hundreds of guests milling around, weaving between showroom yachts, holding plates, sipping adult beverages, and exchanging business cards like people do at trade shows.

I am not good at this kind of professional socialization because—and I think I already mentioned this—I’m an introvert.

PARTY GUEST: Hi, I’m Jim, I sell insurance for Mutual of Sheboygan. Here’s my card. So what do you do?

ME: I’m a writer, what about you? What do you do?

GUEST (staring at me flatly): Insurance.

Right now, a DJ is playing

Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” and the aroma of food is everywhere. I’m watching the whole soirée safely from the pontoon cockpit with my pal, Steve, captain of the Pensacola Police Department. Another introvert and fellow competition judge.

We both know we should be down there with the rest of the mass of extroverts, yucking it up. But this would require physically leaving our pontoon. So here we are.

The pontoon we have selected tonight is a Scout Luxury Center Console model. This is not your granddaddy’s pontoon. This boat has a maximum of 350 horsepower, comes with two full-sized electronic lounge chairs, and is approximately the same price as the Jefferson Memorial.

This is a very different pontoon than the kind from my childhood. My uncle Ray Ray used to patrol Lake Martin in a vessel he named…

The Florida Powerball jackpot is up to a cool 173 million, and I speak for the entire Sunshine State when I say that it’s my turn to win.

I buy a lot of lottery tickets. I know, I know. It’s not the smartest way to spend your money. My uncle used to say the lottery was a tax on stupid people.

This from the same uncle who once tried to eradicate squirrels in his attic with a Browning shotgun. At the same time, my aunt was sitting in the den watching “General Hospital.” She heard a loud blast, then her plaster ceiling caved in and crushed her TV.

Well, I’m no nuclear physicist, but there’s nothing “stupid” about the lottery.

When Gloria C. McKenzie, of Zephyrhills, Florida, stood before camera crews in 2013 holding a giant check for 590.5 million bucks, the largest jackpot ever paid to a sole Powerball winner at the time; she wasn’t exactly dumbest gal in the room.

So shortly after sunup this morning, I crawled into my truck, rubbing sleep from my eyes,

and I drove to the filling station like I often do.

There, I usually buy a small coffee, and when I checkout the young cashier, Tray, greets me with, “What’s up, Sean?”

Whereupon I will answer, “Make me a millionaire today, Tray.”

Then I pick my lottery numbers.

This morning, while Tray was printing my ticket he used the opportunity to explain that Florida law stipulates that gas-station cashiers who sell winning lotto tickets are entitled to half the winnings.

“That can’t be true,” I told him.

“It was on the Internet,” Tray said. “So I has to be true.”

You have to worry about today’s youth.

Fact is, I don’t actually expect to win the jackpot. Truthfully, it’s less about the lotto ticket and more about the ceremony of it all. I’m a routine oriented guy. Plain and simple. I like…

I receive a lot of questions in the form of emails, private messages, and glacially slow federal mail. There is no way I could answer all these questions, so I have compiled some commonly asked questions into the popular Q-and-A format and answered them here.

I won’t waste any more time.

Q: How in the heck are YOU a writer? No offense, but I’m an English major/teacher/professor/professional writer/constipated person/expert, and your stuff stinks.

A: I appreciate you taking the time to write that. Means a lot.

Q: Wait? Aren’t you gonna argue and try to shut me down?

A: Nah. After all, you made a fair point. My stuff ain’t exactly Joyce. Remember, this writing is something you found on the internet.

Q: So, you mean you think your work is subpar too?

A: Sometimes, sure. Sometimes it reeks.

Q: Then why do you keep writing?

A: Because sometimes it doesn’t.

Q: When I first started following you, I didn’t think you were a spiritual person. But sometimes your writing gets way too spiritual sounding for me, where do you stand on religious things?


Q: Really? You’re not

going to answer that?

A: It doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is what you believe.

Q: Oh, give me a break. What a cop out. Surely you can tell me your religious views.

A: I don’t believe that heaven waits for only those who congregate. I’d like to think that God is love. He’s down below, He’s up above. He’s watching people everywhere, He knows who does and doesn’t care.

Q: Did you just quote a Don Williams song?

A: You bet your astrological sign I did.

Q: Man, Don Williams was great.

A: Tell me about it. I saw him in concert once in New Orleans when I was young. I had driven all day only to be left standing outside the theater, in the frog-choking rain, because…

I pushed open the door to the rural restaurant and the little bell above the door jingled. I had been on the road since six that morning. I was road weary, depleted, and in dire need of monounsaturated fat.

An older waitress glanced up from her smartphone and peered over her readers at me.

“Wherever you wanna sit, sweetie.”

I love it when they call me sweetie.

The joint was mostly empty so I chose a spot by the window because I like window seats. Plus, the doctor recently told me I needed more vitamin D in my life. Two birds; one rock.

Immediately I noticed the waitresses were using their downtime to deck the halls of this café. There were three waitresses involved in the impromptu beautification committee and they were hanging plastic Christmas decorations on each vertical surface.

I checked my internal calendar to make sure I had the date correct. It was barely the second week in November. But here in the hinterlands of Alabama it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

On my way to my window seat I passed an old guy at the counter wearing an Army ball cap, clad in a cook’s apron. He was holding a broken ceramic figurine in his hand, squinting at it, using a tube of super glue to repair it.

A henna-haired waitress hollered at him.

“You finished gluing my little drummer boy back together? My manger scene ain’t right without it.”

Army Hat held the figurine up to the light.

“Almost done,” he said before squirting more glue. “What happened to this thing anyway?”

“My three-year-old son happened to it,” said Henna Hair.

“Sounds like quite a kid.”

“You should see what he did to Baby Jesus.”

In my booth garland strung over the window and fake spray-snow covered the glass. I peered out the wintery window to see sunshine and robins singing in plush…

“Happy Thanksgiving, Daddy,” said little Robert, pouncing on his father’s bed at four in the morning.

“Yep,” replied his tired father, who was nearly comatose from sleep.

The year was 1939. Robert’s father staggered out of bed and stretched his lanky body. It was still dark outside. The Michigan air was liquid ice. Robert’s family got dressed while the coffee perked on the potbelly stove.

“Are you excited to eat turkey, Daddy?” Robert asked.


Robert’s father was an ironworker, and a man of sparse words. He was the sort of man who returned home each evening varnished in sweat and exhaustion. Robert’s mother was a commercial seamstress in a factory. Somehow the couple found time to raise four kids.

There was a Depression on. They lived in a meager house. They weren’t poor by any means—there were plenty of families worse off. But they weren’t high-steppers, either.

That morning, Robert’s father donned his nicest Sunday clothes—slacks pressed sharp enough to slice Pittsburgh steel. Robert’s mother wore a dress she reserved for weddings and funerals. Then, the whole family piled into the Ford.


Thanksgiving,” Robert’s mother said to the family.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” everyone answered.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Daddy,” said Robert’s kid sister.

“Yep,” was the reply.

The Ford pulled into the local high school. The parking lot was overrun with vehicles that morning; like ants on a Baby Ruth. People were everywhere.

Inside the cafeteria were dozens of volunteers in white aprons. There were clergymen pushing carts loaded with steaming vats of food. There were old women manning stoves. A large banner read: FREE TURKEYS.

A cafeteria line formed, snaking out the doors into the frigid parking lot. There must have been a few hundred people waiting in line. Maybe more.

In line ahead of Robert’s family were the McDavids. Robert went to school with the McDavid kids. Sometimes the McDavid kids didn’t have shoes or winter jackets.

When it…