Monday, April 30, 2012

A Letter to Joy: On Outside Influences

'binoculars, North Adams, Massachusetts' photo (c) 2011, Mat Tyrrell - license:
Dear Joy,

I still smile when I remember that conversation we had a few nights ago about our respective Myers-Briggs profiles.

The jury’s still out as to exactly what yours is (the mystery of which I find attractive). But me? I am a textbook ISFP (introverted/sensing/feeling/perceiving).

When we read the ISFP profile together, I felt violated by Drs. Myers and Briggs. It’s like they’ve been stalking me my entire life—following me to school, to parties, to work. To the bathroom. (This coming from someone who is highly skeptical of personality tests.)

What on earth does this have to do with “outside influences”?

Well, a hallmark of an ISFP (i.e., me) is that they are passionate observers—almost to a fault. When we ISFPs walk into any new situation, we immediately find a quiet corner, rest our chin on our thumb, squint, and scan everything going on around us. Then, when we’re sure it’s safe, we speak. But not a minute before.

This strong observational bent bleeds over into how I carry my mantle of husband and father. So much of what I do has been patterned after people whose lives I have “scanned” for a time from a distance. It’s in my DNA to study the greats. Some may say that makes me a wimp. I would argue that it makes one wise.

By God’s grace, I haven’t had to look far. My parents are oak trees of faith. Smooching oak trees, in fact. Their mutual affection for God, and for each other, has made a permanent mark on how I carry myself every day. No, they’re not perfect; no one is. But their influence on me has been oceanic. Much of what I do and say is the output of my life-long observance of their life and ministry, and 43-year marriage.

Having godly parents and parents-in-law is about as common as a Cubs World Series win. But your parents have also had a huge influence on my life since the day I met them. Actually, before I met them (how can I forget your dad’s first email to me, asking how I dealt with anger?!).

Each set of parents has influenced me in completely different ways. My dad is a tireless worker with his hands, with permanent dirt under his fingernails. Your dad is a ruthless reader, with volumes of early church history under his belt. They come at life, and their roles as husbands and fathers, very differently, yet the same. Both have given me so much good godly stuff to passionately observe, and to model myself.

I could name many authors whose words have helped shape who we are as parents and spouses over the years. Like that lunch we had with Ted Tripp. Or that book we’re reading right now by Elyse Fitzpatrick.

But my life-on-life observations of people right in the room have made the biggest difference, and had the most profound impression on my life. It’s been other parents who are living and loving in the mess. It’s been pastors who’ve sat with us for hours on end, bathing life-and-death moments in whispered prayers.

I realize that some may have to go to greater lengths to study the greats. We all can, and should—and there are plenty of good places to look. But thanks be to God, I’ve never had to look too far.

Your note-taking fly on the wall,


On Mondays, Joy and I join Seth and Amber Haines as they fight the good fight for their marriage. They call this weekly series “Marriage Letters” and pray that it encourages you in the hard work of marriage. You can join us with your own letter to your spouse, whether you both write or blog or not. Amber hosts the link-up on her blog, so we hope you’ll share your letter there!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

If She Were Still Alive Today

If she were still alive today, she’d be twelve—probably making tween jokes and liking things tween girls like.

If she were still alive today, she’d probably still love purple, and pumpkin pie, and spinning round in her wheelchair with Daddy at the sprayground. She would love the scene in Cars 2 where Mater eats a plate full of wasabi. She would giggle at the minions in Despicable Me. I just know it.

If she were still alive today, she’d be taller, with more mature features. She’d still be sitting her life away, strapped in that 5-point harness that forced her self-straightening body into its 90-degree position for 8 years.

If she were still alive today, she’d no doubt be stronger, heavier—harder to carry from bed to chair to shower, and back again. My back would be sorer. We’d be walking sideways with her down the hall by now. But that would be OK. What I wouldn’t give to lug her lanky, spastic frame down the hall again, kissing her cheeks all the way.

If she were still alive today, she’d still be stymied by the hostile, broken body that enveloped her like a stiff, ill-fitting garment that doesn’t move when and where you want it to. She’d still be experiencing moments of tears—overcome with sadness about toys and words and annoying itches that were just out of reach.

If she were still alive today, I would still call her peanut. I would still be her very imperfect daddy, taking care of her through my own frustrations and lip-biting lapses of control at her cries in the night.

If she were still alive today, her granite headstone would have been sold to someone else. Her grave plot would probably be the resting place for someone who died much older, and saw a lot more of life. A different demographic of mourners would darken the grass growing above her body. The rain and snow and sleet would be falling on someone else’s ground above.

But since she is not still alive today, I take it one day at a time, with a deeper longing for heaven, for things to come. Her destination now beckons me more than it threatens me.

I do not want to die. But half of my DNA has seen the other side, and reminds me that it’s fine to come.

I miss you, peanut.

Friday, April 27, 2012

#FiveMinuteFriday: Just Another Night in New York City

This is my first attempt at a Five Minute Friday post. I trembled as I wrote this, partly because of the ticking clock, and partly because of what happened to me on just another night in New York City.

Manhattan. 1996. It must have been 12:30 am. I was getting off work, and had taken my typical 7-block trek across Midtown. I approached the 15 or 20 glass doors that formed the giant mouth for the people entering Port Authority to catch their trains, buses, or cabs.

As I opened one of the glass doors, a man was sprinting—full speed— through the tiled concourse, toward my door. He was followed closely by NYPD.

I backed out of the way as he slammed into the door itself—and sent me flying backwards. The cops sprinted after him.

It was dark. It was late. I was dog tired.

I got on the bus, and drifted off to sleep on the half hour ride under the Hudson River to my apartment in New Jersey.

I walked into my apartment, and slipped into the bathroom. I turned on the light, and looked in the mirror.

“What the?”

As plain as could be, the left side of my chest had a perfect bloody handprint on it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Letter to Joy: Enduring Loss Together

'Meteor Crater' photo (c) 2005, dbking - license:

Dear Joy,

Just today, I stumbled across a binder full of printed email messages from the summer we started dating. I couldn’t put it down.

We were so footloose, so flirtatious, so playful, so poetic. So unsuspecting. Back then, we measured loss in welts from Manhattan mosquito bites and wet hair from unexpected afternoon rains.

Little did we know that less than 2 years into our marriage, the first fruits of the loss we know today would settle like a fog on our home. Before Elli was born in 2000, I had never once considered the concept of birth defects. When I first learned of her life-threatening heart issues, I kept terrible thoughts locked up. I wanted to return her to God’s Customer Service desk and get a refund—or exchange her for a child that wasn’t defective.

From the beginning, we dealt with disappointment in secret, too tired to talk, too preoccupied with her care. It’s no surprise that couples in our situation divorce. You stop seeing each other as soul mates when everyday life feels more like a hospital ward than a home.

Then, 8 years later, heaven swallowed Elli's soul early one morning in her sleep. She entered eternity, and we were left with what felt like a mile-wide crater in the middle of our house. Sadly, our emotional separation during her life had landed us on opposite sides of that crater, grieving her loss in opposite ends of the house.

Somehow, we spotted each other, and slowly hobbled around to meet on the same side of the crater. But then, a surprising challenge came. Neither of us realized that grieving processes are as diverse as the people who grieve

I grieved standing up, and found hard work to be therapeutic. You closed the blinds on life, and befriended the darkness of depression. You perceived my grieving as insensitive. I perceived yours as wallowing in self-pity. We were both wrong. We made bad grief partners, each wanting the other to snap out of it.

Now, almost 4 years since we lost Elli, we still deal with her loss differently. But something about knowing this has made all the difference in our love, understanding and acceptance of each other. At least now, we can see and appreciate our different grief styles and not let it be a hindrance to our mutual healing. This is the one lesson I want to scream from the rooftops.

Ironically, loss has not left us empty-handed. It has left us with a ministry. As a couple, we can meet those dealing with welts and wet hair where they are, and give out of the rich storehouse of comfort we have received. We can point them to the God of all comfort, who has been our only Hope for hanging on while letting go.

For better, or for worse,


On Mondays, Joy and I join Seth and Amber Haines as they fight the good fight for their marriage. They call this weekly series “Marriage Letters” and pray that it encourages each of us in our own hard work of marriage. Next week's prompt is “On Outside Influences.” You can join us any time with your own letter to your spouse, whether you both write or blog or not. Joy is  hosting today's link-up on her blog, so we hope you’ll share your letter there!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The River Grace

Dehydrated, distressed,
I scratched at square inches
Of dry, cracked ground,
Lodging ungodly grains
Under my dead fingernails.

Help gushed out of a Rock—
Overflowing, its nature;
Grace, its sweet flavor.
The enemy had me convinced
It was full of lead and mercury.

Then, truth turned my head around
To learn of The River Grace.
I awoke, waded in its tributaries,
And cupped it up in handfuls
To my once cotton mouth.

Now alive, I want to build a life
Around building better reservoirs—
Be they canals to criminals,
Pipelines to the poor,
Or tankers to the down-trodden.

As an eyewitnesses to this excess
May I not be content to collect;
Give me gifts in hydraulics—
To daily drink from this River Grace,
Then to manage the overflow.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Letter to Joy: I Trust You Because...

Dear Joy,

You trusted me long before it was safe. I was a swinging bachelor on my own, while you still had 2 years of blue book exams and cafeteria food left. 

Yet with all those miles between us, you had a devotion that dissolved the painful infidelities of my past. You were the first to show me what relentless commitment looks like. There was simply nothing there not to trust.

But my trust runs far deeper than relational fidelity and faithfulness.

I trust you because you’re a remarkable mother. You carried our four children in your womb. You fed them from your breast. You pushed life-sustaining syringes into their skin on next to no sleep. You gave, and you gave—and you give—putting the household needs ahead of your own. There is simply nothing there not to trust.

I trust you because you are less right-brained (or more left-brained) than I am. You’re better with the bills and the books. My paycheck flows right into our joint account, and you see that it all gets where it needs to go. We discuss the budget and significant spending decisions, and I trust you with the rest. Not once have I doubted the stroke of your pen, or the swipe of your card. There is simply nothing there not to trust.

I trust you with my body. And I really don’t care to say much more about that on a public blog. ;-)

Most importantly, I trust you because I know God has us both in His grip. His presence gives me the grace to forgive and forget your faults, and silences the voices that try to whisper things to me about you that are not true. 

Without God, grievances pile up, and every move becomes suspect. With God, I am free to trust you with complete abandon—be it with boys, bills or the bedroom.

Did you just put one lump in my coffee, or two?

With love (and trust),


On Mondays, Joy and I join Seth and Amber Haines as they fight the good fight for their marriage. They call this weekly series “Marriage Letters” and pray that it encourages each of us in our own hard work of marriage. Next week's prompt is “Enduring Loss Together.” You can join us any time with your own letter to your spouse, whether you both write or blog or not. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog, so we hope you’ll share your letter there!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Angels [Unawares]: A Very Unexpected Encounter on my Way to #T4G12

Photo credit: Google Maps

At 8 a.m., I pulled into the Green Tree Mall parking lot in Clarksville, Indiana.

Clarksville feels like a suburb well past its prime—a littered, blue-collar bedroom community for Louisville, Kentucky commuters. 

It was blindingly sunny for 8am. The sky was the same shade of blue as the sun-bleached posters hanging in the town's storefronts. The air was unseasonably brisk for a mid-April morning.

I was headed to the second day of Together for the Gospel, a conference in the heart of downtown Louisville. Rooms in Louisville had been hard to find, and their prices painfully high. So I had found a great deal on a room in Clarksville, and had decided to take the bus. It was only 4 miles as the crow flies.

I’m a stubborn advocate for public transportation. Besides its economical benefits, it makes me feel more thankful, more human, more connected. Being on someone else’s schedule, surrounded by strangers, at the mercy of another’s skill, is very good for my soul.

There in the far corner of the empty sprawling mall parking lot, I found what I was looking for: a dilapidated bus shelter, exposed, abandoned and poorly manicured. Dew sat on the clumps of grass around it like dampness from the pop of a burst economic bubble. Clearly, public transit was forgotten lore in this town, if this post-apocalyptic lean-to was any indication.

I sat down in the shelter, thankful that its one wall was perfectly positioned to keep the chilly wind off me. I had forgotten to bring a coat, and was visibly shivering through my thin V-neck sweater.

Photo credit: Google Maps
In front of me, the sun was peeping up from behind a mega store of some kind, with a 4-lane boulevard and 300 yards of parking lot separating us. I was stunned by the lifelessness of the landscape, interrupted only by the occasional speeding car. If this was rush hour in Clarksville, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like on the weekends.

Minutes later, a bus approached on the far side of the road. As its air brakes farted a deafening hiss into the morning air, it stopped at the far curb and belched out three people at a small wooden bench. I could only see their feet shuffling under the bus. Two sets of feet dispersed, but one stayed. When the bus drove off, he stood facing me, eclipsing the sun.

I squinted enough to tell that He was a thin African American man, probably in his 30s. His heavy clothes were 4 sizes too big, and he had a dark, flat-billed cap pulled down over his eyes.

He started waving one hand, trying to get my attention across the wide road. “What on earth could he possibly want?” I thought to myself. “Probably money.” I was glad I was wearing sunglasses so he couldn’t tell where I was looking—or that I was looking straight at him.

He started saying something to me that sounded like, “Change, sir? Change sir?!” Ah, my instincts were right. I have ridden thousands of buses, and walked miles of city streets. I am a clever fellow—wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

After a car whizzed by, he burst into a sprint toward me. “Wow, this guy is on a mission,” I thought.

He hopped up onto the curb right in front of me and extended his hand, offering a shred of crumpled gray paper.

“Do you need this transfer, sir? I don’t need it. It will get you on the bus for free.”

Suddenly I realized that he had been saying, "Transfer? Transfer?!" As I reached out and took the transfer, my soul immediately started turning inside out with guilt. Before I knew it, he had turned and sprinted back across the street, disappearing into the sun’s rays. I collected myself just quickly enough to yell into the brightness, “Thank you!” as he scurried away.

A few minutes later, my bus came and I stepped on. I waved the gray paper at the driver and asked, “Is this all I need?” He nodded casually. No fare necessary. A stranger, whom I had functionally hated, even murdered in my heart, had paid my way.

The hair stands up on the back of my neck when I read that little phrase at the end of Hebrews 13:2: “Some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” The writer doesn’t give any guarantees that it will happen to us, but he leaves the possibility open.

God has brought many moments into my life like this one, moments that have sent me running back to Hebrews 13:2 saying, “Could it be, Lord?” I ask not out of exhilaration, but out of embarrassment and contrition.

If that was an angel—and it could have been—I blew it. God, please forgive me, and make me worthy of my calling the next time a stranger crosses my path.

And thank you for loving me so personally, so compellingly. Even in my sin.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Letter to Joy: On The Names I Call You

Dear Joy Babe,

I’ll never know what it feels like to go through life being named after one of the Fruits of the Spirit. No name is impervious to pokes of fun, and yours has definitely had its share of winks and giggles—not because people don't like your name, but because of its great pun potential.

People even crack wise at me about your name, as if I’ve never heard any of the jokes. It’s been happening since before we were dating. 

One time before a chapel service in college, my friends all knew I wanted to ask you out on a date. Just as they were razzing me right there in the pew about my lack of courage, the song leader stood up and opened the service with You Shall Go Out With Joy.“It’s divine prophecy, Scotty,” they said.

That would never happen to an Annabelle, or a Lillian.

Although I’ve always loved your name, I don’t call you Joy that much. I think I refrain from it because it's such a tough name to live up to. It seems insensitive to say, “What’s wrong, Joy?” when I find you feeling rather joyless. In those moments, calling you Joy seems more like irony than intimacy.

So what do I call you? My subliminal style guide is simple: 
  • I call you Joy when I’m talking to friends, family and acquaintances about you. 
  • I call you Mommy when I’m talking to the kids about you. 
  • I call you Babe in 99.9% of our casual, everyday interactions. 
  • I call you Honey when I am getting impatient with you. 
(That last one is not something I’m proud of.)

I chose to call you Babe because I want to be the only person in the world who calls you what I call you. And whether I call you Joy, Babe or Mommy, you’re still the one person on this planet who brings me the most Joy happiness. 

See? I almost slip sometimes, too.

I got you, Babe,


On Mondays, Joy (don’t miss her letter this week) and I join Seth and Amber Haines as they fight the good fight for their marriage. They call this weekly series “Marriage Letters” and pray that it encourages each of us in our own hard work of marriage. Next week's prompt is “I Trust You Because.” You can join us any time with your own letter to your spouse, whether you both write or blog or not. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog, so we hope you’ll share your letter there!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Introductions, Inspiration, Introspection: My Time at #KillerTribes

I created this blog about 4 months ago. To date, I have 3 subscribers (whom I adore!). My Twitter handle (@ScottB3nn3tt) just eeked its way past the 300 follower mark—about 75 of whom appear to be porn stars.

In blog years, I’m just a baby. And that’s just fine, because I’m still crawling around, gumming on my words, cooing out phrases with my voice, and playing with my “why” in this space. That’s my personal writing life.

In my professional writing life, I spend most of my days on Facebook and Twitter as the voice of an $80 billion company. The Twitter handle I steward has 23,000+ followers, and grows by a couple hundred a week. I tweet, respond, comment and moderate discussions all day long. I write some blog posts for the corporate website, which gets a million page views a month. It’s a dream job.

That’s the stark social media contrast in which I live. I feel like Nehemiah must have felt—bearing a golden goblet for the king by day, and drinking from a clay pot by night. My personal and professional writing worlds are miles apart in their profile and prominence—but not in their purpose.

I gave Killer Tribes a try because I thought it would universally speak into both my professional and personal writing worlds. Both worlds have great potential, with very different paths to greater success. But at their core, they share the same aim: to create 1-to-1 connections with a growing number of people who rally around a common Purpose.

I got what I was after, and then some. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Killer Tribes gave me the opportunity to hear and meet some amazing people. My wife, Joy, has been blogging steadily since 2005. She's very much an adult in blog years. She knew several people who would be attending and/or speaking at the conference, and first introduced the idea of attending Killer Tribes together. I’m so glad I took her up on it.

She introduced me to countless “tribe-mates” of hers, who have inspired her so much over the years. These were everyday, down-to-earth people—many of them published authors—whose voices are heard by thousands who read their blogs and books.

Beyond being so approachable, these people did so much to bolster my confidence. Time after time, I had hallway conversations with well-established word-crafters who would say, “Oh yeah, It took me a good 2 years to find my voice and get in my groove.” Those words were balm for this blogger baby.

Bryan Allain, who organized the Killer Tribes conference, put together a wonderfully diverse line-up of speakers, whose tribe-building successes had taken such varied forms.

I was inspired as Alli Worthington, founder of BlissDom (one of the most prominent blogging conferences today), told endearing stories of her humble beginnings in 2007. She attributed her incredible success to knowing her weaknesses well, then surrounding herself with people who were strong in the areas where she was weak. She told some amazing stories about what that looked like.

I was inspired as Daddy-O, a musical genius who grew up writing and recording in the infancy of hip-hop, gave sage advice on how to build a career that is grounded, continually inspired and self-sustaining.

I was inspired as Sarah Mae, author of several books and founder of the Relevant conference, challenged me to be willing to take a step back and figure out my “why”, even if it means taking a break from writing. She caused me to start with the Idea—the wellspring within myself from which passion and purpose freely flow. I need to do this.

I could write volumes about the nuggets I took away from each speaker. But I was most inspired by the ones who started out just like me, and who took a while to get their groove, just like me. I really needed to hear that.

Killer Tribes caused me to think a lot about what I want to do with my life—not just in the area of blogging, but in the area of being. Why do I have this blog, and what should it be?

I started my blog as a place to reflect on my personal Bible study and devotions. That was good, but I’m second guessing whether blogging about personal theological reflections is all that wise, or helpful to others. I want to uniquely help people, and there’s so much helpful theological stuff out there. I’m still thinking about that one. I haven’t given up on it.

Some of my posts have simply been stories, like the mini-biography I posted on the 20th anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I love to tell stories. But wow, finding and developing them is painstaking. Again, I’m still thinking about that one.

When I think about the stories God has given me to tell, I think about our daughter Elli, who we lost at 8 years old, and that dark trial we walked through with God’s help. I think about the Find a Voice Fund we started in her memory. I wonder if that is what God wants me to write about, and use this space to comfort others with the comfort we received from Him.

I love graphic design and photography. I love the written word, and the Word of God. I love humor—doing impersonations and satire. I love poetry. 

I love being a father and husband, and have written letters to Joy on my blog. We've even talked lately about co-authoring a book about the experience of losing Elli, and how we've managed to stay together even though we have grieved so differently as individuals.

So many things could become That One Thing Sarah Mae calls my Idea. I’m still pondering what that is, keeping my mind and heart open to where the Lord leads. Most of all, I want to love and help people in ways that make God look as glorious as possible. I’m confident that He will reveal that, and He will bless that. Even as I write this, I feel like the answer is right in front of my nose.

And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be a keynote speaker at a Killer Tribes conference—or even creating my own conference. After what I saw on Saturday, there’s always that chance.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Letter to Joy: On Serving Together

Dear Joy,

I can still see you sitting to my right, accompanying me at the electric keyboard on that tiny, claustrophobic stage with the heavy, red velvet curtain behind us.

I was the clumsy music leader in the middle, dressed in asuit and tie, standing at the pulpit of that little church with stained glass and squeaky wood pews. I would wave my arm to your rhythm, having not one lesson in conducting.

You’d fumble your way through all 4 stanzas of those old Baptist hymns, smiling the whole way through. You were simply fearless, and I was awestruck by your optimism—even when your hand would accidentally bang a sour chord during my offering prayer.

I look back on those days with such fondness—just two friends, serving together. With all of our mutual musical shortcomings, we were in it for the Lord. And somehow, in all our fumbling fingers and funny hand motions, it was so much fun—even exhilarating—because we were serving together. It was like a little taste of heaven.

Ironically, that early exhilaration of serving together has been at a steady decrescendo over the 15 years since we occupied that squeaky stage together. Our marriage is stronger than it’s ever been, and we still serve together at home with hospitality to strangers and friends alike.

But we both long for those days again at church—me the flawed leader, you fumbling the black keys with a smile, and gracious friends overlooking it all because it’s about Christ's perfection and not our own.

Ministry has been brutal, and full of disappointments that have left us hurt, disillusioned and battered. We still wear those scars, and we even walk with somewhat of a limp. But God is still on His throne. We have alot of living and serving left to do. And I know He’s not done with us among His flock.

This letter is my way to commit to getting us there again—the way God designed us to be, serving side by side in a community exploding with grace. We’re so much better together than we are alone. You have worlds to offer, and haven’t been given much of a chance lately.

I want that little taste of heaven back in our life.


On Mondays, Joy (don’t miss her letter this week) and I join Seth and Amber Haines as they fight the good fight for their marriage. They call this weekly series “Marriage Letters” and pray that it encourages each of us in our own hard work of marriage. This week's prompt is “On Serving Together.” You can join us any time with your own letter to your spouse, whether you both write or blog or not. Amber hosts a link-up on her blog, so we hope you’ll share your letter there!