Three Rules to Serve By

Blogger’s Note: I wrote the following personal essay as my entry into a contest with Towne Park.

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the television show NCIS has a list of rules he lives by. He is as fictional as the CBS program, but his rules make sense in the real world. I know a man whose three rules make even more sense.

Blair Wright sells proprietary software for hospitals and large medical practices. I would say he is driven to serve. Blair’s infectious smile and calm manner are not the byproducts of sales training and a career of wooing clients off the fence to the table to sign contracts. I learned his principles by watching his life, how he interacted with others, and how he led me. When I donned the hat and whistle as doorman at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel [twitter | facebook], his principles became my daily marching orders.

Principle No. 1: Everyone has a Story

Julie’s* cab arrived from the airport about dusk. I opened her door and welcomed her but felt pulse waves of stress as she climbed out of the minivan. Something had gone wrong. I opened the trunk to retrieve her luggage but she said, “There’s nothing back there.” She paused and then added, “The airline lost my suitcase.”

I directed Julie to the registration desk and later sent a snack and a handwritten note to her room. I wondered if there might be more to this page of her story than a lost bag.

She checked out two days later and thanked me for my gift. “This weekend was my 30th birthday,” she said. “My husband surprised me with a weekend away with my best friend. My daughter got sick right as I was leaving for the airport, but I left anyway. I felt guilty all the way here from Dallas. The airline lost my luggage then I found out my friend’s plane was delayed.” She looked like the dam of emotions was about to breach. “I had sat down on the bed and started to cry when room service knocked on the door. I read your note and I knew everything was going to be okay.” She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you.”

I replied, “You’re welcome… And happy birthday!” She waved as the taxi accelerated away.

Julie’s weekend reminded me that every guest has a story. We should watch for them—and our role in them. The guest’s story doesn’t start when he pulls onto the drive in front of our hotel. The story has been building and bending for years.

Rick*, Cheyenne*, and their five children arrived very late one Sunday night. They drove up in two SUVs with clothing to fill three bell carts and enough diapers for an army of infants.

“We just moved into our new house,” Cheyenne said. They lived in an exclusive, gated community. “Our house is built into the side of the hill overlooking the lake but the house started to settle.” She cursed like a sailor with Tourette’s. “Our builder tells us if they don’t do something now, the house will fall off of the hill. We’re going to be here for two weeks while they fix it.”

I couldn’t imagine building my dream house only to have it on the brink of collapse.

Over the course of the next 13 nights, I had to remind myself—sometimes hour by hour—of Blair’s second principle.

Principle No. 2: I Am Second

This principle grows out of a Bible passage:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:3–4, niv

Rick and Cheyenne parked wherever they liked, talked on their cell phones with the urgency of commanders in our country’s ICBM silos, rarely offered a gratuity, and asked for the moon but expected the satellites to be delivered as well. As I served them, I reminded myself, “I am second”—sometimes through gritted teeth.

At moments, it’s difficult to look out for the interests of others while they complain loudly in your face, but others are watching. After a difficult departure with Rick and Cheyenne, a guest stopped me and commented, “Some people expect a lot, huh?”

I looked at him and replied, “It’s not a problem. They’re our guests. They deserve my best.”

He nodded. “That’s why I stay here.”

Whether or not we are treated with respect, we should strive to put our guests in front of ourselves, our comfort, and even our tips. That wasn’t a challenge with Tim* and Agnes*.

Tim and Agnes arrived on our front drive in a well-loved Lincoln Town Car. As I helped them with their valet ticket, Tim let me know that they were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. I congratulated them and offered my help during their stay. As I watched them explore the lobby, Blair’s third rule came to mind.

Principle No. 3: Everyone is coming out of a crisis, in the middle of a crisis, or heading into a crisis.

Tim and Agnes spent their four days shopping, seeing the Grand Ole Opry, and even boot scootin’ at a honky tonk on Broadway. (I would’ve paid good money to see that.)

When they checked out, Tim pulled me aside for a minute. He shook my hand but didn’t let go. “I don’t know if we’ll make it to our 41st anniversary.” My eyebrows formed a question mark. Tim continued, “Right before we left, the doctors told us that Agnes isn’t in remission anymore. She starts another round of chemotherapy on Monday.” He gripped my hand even tighter. “I just want you to know that everybody helped us have a great time. I’ll always cherish this weekend.”

None of us knew Tim and Agnes’ story when we retrieved or parked their car, cleaned their room, made dinner recommendations, or opened doors. We put them first throughout their stay. Today, Agnes is in the crisis of her life. We unknowingly gave her a gift—the memory of a cool spring weekend in Nashville.






*Names and circumstances have been changed to protect the privacy of our guests.

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Grief Surprised Me

“Daddy, are you going to eat lunch with me at school tomorrow?” Meileah asked this question with big, round eyes as I tucked her into bed last night.

“What? Is it a special day?” I replied buying myself some time because a Twix wasn’t readily available.

“Yes,” she replied with enough coy mystery to write a dozen sitcoms.

“Well, it’s not your birthday.”


“Well, what is it?”

“I don’t know, but parents are invited to come and eat lunch.” The look in her eyes told me she knew no more.

I walked her into school this morning to find out what was planned. Today is Grandparents’ Day. I said goodbye to Meileah and turned to walk back to the car when grief and tears showed up tag-teaming me like two five hundred pound wrestlers with an agenda… and they didn’t bring tissues.

Elisa and my Father on Grandparents' Day 2000 (I think)

Grandparents’ Day was always a special day in our house. Many times, both Kaye’s parents and my parents traveled to our house. Our former school hosted a day of events—musical program, school tour, classroom visits, and more. Our children created special essays and artwork to present to their grandparents. One grade level even made the diagramming of a sentence a performance art. Our parents felt so special and honored. Our children felt so loved. To be transparent, I think that Grandparents’ Day was more connecting and memory-making than Christmas. The happiness and excitement weren’t manufactured or expected. They were the product of childlike joy—in both our children and our parents.

Since moving to Nashville, we’ve homeschooled. We enrolled Meileah in school this year. This is the first Grandparents’ Day since 2004.

A lot changes in 6+ years. My dad, my mom, and Kaye’s dad are now in heaven. Kaye’s mom cant travel.

As I walked to the car, the memories flooded back. I’ll never forget the smiles of pride on their faces, the laughter, the hugs, watching my dad get in and out of a child’s classroom chair, and so much more. And I’ll remember the tears we all shed. Tears of joy at the special feeling of the day. Tears of time as we each silently mourned the passing of time and the growing up of children.

Today, in honor of my parents, I will eat lunch with Meileah and listen as her classmates entertain their grandparents. The memories will be heavy—like a lead blanket at the dentist—but they will not be burdensome. I will share a story or two with her about her grandparents.

Grief surprised me today, but I choose to dance with it and remember The Teacher’s words.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.
– Ecclesiastes 7:2

When and where has grief surprised you? How did you walk through it.

P.S. As I wrote this post, it hit me that if Randy Alcorn is correct (and I hope he is), my parents and Kaye’s dad may be praying for Meileah today and watching lunch through heaven’s portal.
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Pizza Night

Help send our daughter Elisa to Portugal.

Order handmade New York style pizza from

Brothers Pizza


Delivery • Carry Out • Dine In

Located at Reid Hill Common, at the corner of Downs Blvd and Highway 96 West next to Walgreens

A portion of every purchase today after 4pm goes to her mission trip (see below).

  • Stop by for dinner. Elisa will be there to answer questions
  • Order pizza to be delivered for your family
  • Grab some take-n-bake pizzas and stock your freezer

If you’d like to contribute instead of or in addition to your pizza order, follow these easy steps:

  • Click here to go to the donation page
  • Click on the button for “OM Missionary”
  • Click “next” to go to the next page
  • Enter the following:
    • OM Missionary Name:         ELISA WHITLOCK
    • Where They Work          Transform 2010
    • OM Missionary’s Code          2279018
  • Fill in your billing information and click “next”
  • Confirm your gift

Here’s information about the trip in Elisa’s words:

I would like to share with you an awesome opportunity I have this summer and include you in my journey. From July 19 – August 8, I will be on a mission trip with Operation Mobilization (OM). OM works all over the world, sending people from several different countries alongside full-time missionaries to spread the Gospel. This trip is a part of Transform 2010—a big outreach to the peoples of the Mediterranean area, which is actually inside the 10/40 Window (the least reached areas of the world).

Transform 2010 • July 19 - August 8 • Operation Mobilization Arts • visual art, music, and dance to spread the gospel

I will spend a week in Rome, Italy, at a training conference with all the other Transform 2010 participants and then travel to Algarve, Portugal, for my outreach. I am specifically going on this trip with OM Arts, a division of OM that uses visual art, music, and dance to spread the Word. I will be joining five other dancers from OM Arts’s dance ministry, DanceLink, dancing in the streets, in churches, and such, and maybe even doing a dance workshop.

I first heard about OM Arts when some of the staff came up to my school, Bryan College, and shared with us during a couple of chapels. In February, I went on a retreat for a Bible class at Bryan College called “Arts and Missional Living” held at the OM Arts headquarters. I got to meet all the staff and feel like I am already friends with them. I had a blast while I was down there and loved having the opportunity to dance. Most importantly, though, God made me realize that He doesn’t care how well I dance: He cares more about whether or not I am using my gift to worship Him in spirit and in truth. He wants me to push myself to excellence, but He would rather I dance poorly with a pure heart than dance with perfect technique and a proud heart. This truth freed me from self-degradation, and now I can worship God like never before! After thinking and praying about it for a little while, I decided to go on this mission trip. I am so excited, and I can’t think of a better way to go on a mission trip than to dance!

Will you please pray for me as I prepare for my trip and travel “across the pond?” This is my very first mission trip, so I am kind of nervous. I have been overseas before, but that was to China, and a mission trip require you to get in touch with a culture in way completely different from tourism.

Please pray that:

  • Our travels will be safe
  • We would rely on God’s strength and not our own
  • God would reveal more of His great glory and marvelous love to us … and those we meet
  • The hearts of the people of Portugal would be opened to God’s word
  • People all over the Mediterranean will be touched by Transform 2010.

I would love to keep in touch with you in the days leading up to my trip and while I’m overseas. I will be posting pictures and updates to my Facebook profile, so if you’re not my “friend” already, go ahead and search for “Elisa Whitlock” on Facebook and friend me. If you would like to receive email updates, just send me an email at, and I’ll put you on my email list.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support! They are appreciated more than you know.

I pray that God will bless you and, as Paul prayed, that you will be able to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Your sister in Christ,


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Top Secret Message

I received a top secret message earlier this week. I talk about it here.  I need your help deciphering it.

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Just a Hop or Hope?

A bunny scampered across our yard this morning as I exited the house for work.  The squeak of the screen door startled it. It cleared our driveway in one leap.  I don’t know if this was the baby bunny that was born this spring, or perhaps its mom or dad.

For some reason, bunnies capture our family’s imagination.

This bunny looks similar. By the time I got my camera out this morning, the bunny was gone.

If we see one in the side yard when pulling into our driveway, we stop. The trunk of the car sticks into our street because we don’t want to move another inch. We remain as still as the car as we watch it. Watch it chewing on clover. Watch it hopping away. Watch it push its ears down along its back when it’s frightened.

Those quiet moments are special and memorable. They are a part of our fabric as a family.

As I saw the bunny hop this morning, I felt hope.  Why would a bunny equal hope? I’m not quite sure. However, I needed hope and I needed to see that bunny.

Whatever captures your imagination, whatever brings your life to a halt, whatever allows you to feel hope even if for a few fleeting seconds, I hope that you can see it or hear it, feel it, or taste it today.

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Batman says, “Hi!” and other observations

A three year old and his mother sat next to me from Houston to San Salvador. This very cute kid said, “hi!” to everyone who passed by. He also said, “hi!” to me about 1,000 times during our 3-hour flight. His Batman shirt was the hit of gate waiting area. He was a handful for his mom—struggled with take-off, didn’t like the food, cried from time to time.

While waiting in line for our passports to be verified, I met a family with Canadian citizenship. They were traveling back to their homeland to celebrate a cousin’s La Quinceañera. The daughter knew of World Vision’s work through the band Starfield.

My SuperShuttle driver was named Nimrod. He moved from Haiti to the United States 16 years ago. He lost family in the recent earthquake.

Today was a travel day. We leave our hotel at 6:30 tomorrow morning for a long drive to see the work of World Vision.

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Of Shields and Promises

Quite impressive for a farmer with a pitchfork, wouldn’t you say?
Col. William Tavington
The Patriot (2000)

Benjamin Martin fights for his family in The Patriot. A vengeful British colonel shoves Martin into the conflict by capturing one son and killing another. He, and two other sons, chase down and rescue the eldest son in a horrific and bloody show of force and cunning.

I thought of this scene when I read Genesis 14 and 15 this morning.

War brewed among nine kings. Four kings’ armies took on the other five kings’ armies and conquered ground, cattle, and prisoners leaving behind a wake of crimson sand. The quad-king coalition captured Lot, Abram’s cousin, and hauled him off with his family and livestock.

Abram heard the news from someone who escaped the massacre. So he grabbed 318 trained men and headed off to bring back his cousin. In the afterglow of victory and success, the king of Sodom (where Lot had been living) came to meet him. Another king, a priest of the High God, came, too, and blessed Abram. He was offered riches and prestige. Abram shrugged them off like a feather from his shoulder choosing instead the pleasure of the Lord.

I’ve heard men talk of the let down after battle. The adrenaline bleeds off and they are left with doubts and critiques of their actions. I believe Abram must have had a let down after the great moment in front of the two kings. In the next recorded scene of his life:

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,
“Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.”
Genesis 15:1 NIV

He responds with doubt. After the first expression of doubt, the Lord comforts Abram and casts a vision for his future. The Bible then records this incredible statement about Abram:

And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 ESV

God is obviously walking with this man. A military victory with a personal reward. Promises from God. What comforts me most comes next. Abram expressed more doubt, unbelief, and fear. So the Lord makes a covenant with him. “Do not fear” wasn’t enough for Abram. “I know your future” didn’t take away his night terrors. So God makes a “promise He can’t break” on behalf of Abram and his descendents.

So here I am in my fear. I am aware of the promises of God. I am aware of the numerous times he says, “Do not be afraid.” I am a child of the new covenant—God the Father broke His only son for my sin. He bled and died for me. I am grateful for Abram’s fears. They comfort me in mine. God’s response to Abram comforts me even more.

I thought of another scene from The Patriot as I read about God’s covenant with Abram. Gabriel Martin travels from town to town to recruit militia to join the fight for independence. On a bright, clear morning, Gabriel rides into a hamlet during a funeral. Several townspeople were hanged by the British. Gabriel interrupts the funeral to make his plea. His friend Anne adds her passion to Gabriel’s request. As John Williams’ stirring score crescendos, a man stands. We never learn his name or his fate. We don’t see him fight. But he stands. Each day when the alarm erupts, I hope I have the courage to answer God’s passionate cry to leave my fear behind and press into the battle of the day. (Watch from 6:37 in the clip below; I know. The creator didn’t fix the aspect ratio)


While I’ve been meditating on these scriptures, I’ve been listening to New Release Tuesday’s preview of Amy Grant’s new record, “Somewhere Down the Road” (temporary link). She has recorded a new version of “Arms of Love.” While I typed these words about fear, this new arrangement came on. The lyrics struck me like a flying side kick to the chest from my black belt son. When I was a teenager, this song was part of my nightly ritual. I used to tell my parents goodnight, go downstairs, turn out the lights, cue up the last track of side 2 of the LP “Age to Age”, don my headphones, and listen to the piano only accompaniment and honest lyrics. (Listen to original version here.)Perhaps I should start the ritual again.

“Arms of Love”
Words and music by Gary Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant

Lord, I’m really glad you’re here
Hope You feel the same
When You see all my fear
And how I fail
I fall sometimes

It’s hard to walk in shifting sand
I miss the rock and find
I’ve nowhere left to stand
I start to cry
Lord, please help me

Raise my hand, so You can pick me up
Hold me close, hold me tighter

I have found a place where I can hide
It’s safe inside
Your arms of love
Like a child who’s held throughout a storm
You keep me warm
In Your arms of love

Storms will come and storms will go
Wonder just how many storms
It takes until I finally know
You’re here always

Even when my skies are far from gray,
I can stay
Teach me to stay there

In the place I’ve found where I can hide
It’s safe inside
Your arms of love
Like a child who’s held throughout a storm
You keep me warm
In Your arms of love

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