the countdown is over

There's nothing left to buy. Well, actually there probably is, but there's no place to buy it unless you don't mind doing your last second Christmas shopping at a convenience store or a 24 hour pharmacy. All the others are closed up and the holiday shopping season is over but for the returns and after the day bargains.

I drove over by the big mall here in Lexington last night. Except for a smattering of cars next to the Olive Garden, the lot looked huge and empty. A few hours ago all of those spaces were filled with cars that were filled with bags that were filled with gifts of every sort. Last minute adventurers who'd taken their chances were leaving feeling satisfied with their finds and anxious to give it all away. I was one of them.

Several years ago when I'd first taken the job as executive director of Kentucky's Governor's Mansion, I found myself in a really scary Christmas place. Since the governor's inauguration in Kentucky takes place in early December, I'd been tasked right after the November election with transitioning the official residence in a matter of days. My job was helping the outgoing first family move out and getting the new one settled in. It was a huge task that took lots and lots of hours to make happen. I was left with no, I mean absolutely no time to rub elbows with the rest of the holiday crowd.

So, late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, I finally forced myself away from my work long enough to try and snag a few last minute gifts for family and friends. I knew I had precious little time to get the job done, so I decided to go to one of the big department stores to try some one-stop miracle shopping. I knew how desperately late I was when everyone else on the property was using my entrance door to get out.

I ran in, grabbed a shopping cart and started tossing it full with pretty much whatever I could find. There was no time to shop strategically, so I just threw things in and hoped to sort it out among the gift-getters later. I had no clue what I was buying for who. I even threw in a TV. Somebody I know could use it.

Of course, it was close to closing time before I even got started. "Attention shoppers. Please make your final selections and make your way to the registers at the front of the store. Thank you for shopping with us, and have a merry Christmas." The voice was pleasant enough. She was probably anxious to get to her own holiday festivities, but she was kind to us obvious procrastinators. A few minutes later she kindly reminded us again. Same pleasant voice. Exact same words.

Surely I wasn't the only chum who was trying to save his hide and pride this late in the Christmas shopping game. There were still lots of folks in the store when I came in. "Attention shoppers. PLEASE make your final selections and proceed to the registers at the front of the store." I sensed a little urgency in the voice this time. I continued through the mostly empty aisles shopping/running/panting like a madman. I tossed in anything that looked like a somewhat thoughtful gift. If not for that doggone front right wheel I would've broken whatever speed limit they might want to think about imposing in such a place.

I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was keeping the entire retail sales associate world from celebrating the birth of Jesus. Then things started going black. It was like a plague from bible days. The darkness started in the back of the store and was closing in on to me fast. I was feeling the pressure, but surely, SURELY I wasn't the only shopper left in this huge warehouse of a building. "Attention shopper, SIR. Please make your way to the register at the front of the store! Thank you SIR." Evidently I was.

It was a little awkward. Just me, one poor, tired lady in a smock who'd been on her feet seventy-two of the last seventy-two hours, and a manager who was kind but ready to go home, or somewhere. But I'd prevailed and Christmas was a success. I'd managed to pick up something for everyone on my quick-put-together-mental-list. (I think that was the year I developed a real affinity for gift cards. I'd never been a big fan before, but I'm all about them now. They're not only life savers, they're lots of fun too.)

Evidently all the carts go back inside for the holiday. The nice manager helped me out to the car with my hasty stash. How kind, I thought. As soon as I lifted the last bag from the cart, she grabbed it and made a beeline back inside. That bad wheel didn't slow her down a bit.

The parking lot at the mall last night reminded me of the big empty box store lot that wild Christmas Eve night. Now that we've all made our final selections and proceeded to the register we can finally remember why we really do such things about this time every year.


the grammys! goodness!

It's been a great week for friends. I've heard from a lot of them the last few days. I consider myself very wealthy that way. I enjoy spending time, chatting with, and doing life with good friends. Some of the calls and emails have come from folks I've not heard from in a long time. I heard from one sweet lady I honestly thought was dead. I just know I read her obituary in the paper a year or so ago.

The news that prompted many of them to call with congratulations and lots of well wishes was pretty big in my view. It's the kind of thing that is made public right away, and big enough that you want to share it with as many of your best friends as possible. Out of the blue, on a regular, task-filled Thursday, with no hint at all that it was coming, I received a call from Ed Leonard at Daywind Records. He asked me what seemed like a really odd question. "What do Alan Jackson, the Gaither Vocal Band, the Del McCoury Band, Randy Travis and Kenny Bishop all have in common?" I couldn't put it together myself. I didn't see a connection. His answer; "They're all Grammy Award finalists for best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album!" I was completely, I mean totally and completely shell-shocked.

For my part, I had some questions. Is this something we were pursuing? If so, I wasn't aware. Did the record company lobby the folks who put the nominations together? Did anyone else? Was anyone anywhere expecting this to happen? From everyone I asked, the answer was, "No, no, no and no." I asked how it happened. No one could say.

I'm not sure of the process. Someone somewhere got the ball rolling and among all of the potentials, I received enough votes to be considered a finalist. I am grateful - very, very, very grateful. I know there are many, many others who deserve the honor. Most of them more so than me.

The Grammys are not a Southern Gospel Music based award. Let me rephrase that. The Grammys are much more than just Southern Gospel Music awards. Nonetheless, that means some don't consider them legitimate recognition. I understand. But I'm grateful nonetheless, and feel like I am one of the most blessed and fortunate guys in the world - however it happened. Whether it means anything to anyone else at all, it means a great deal to me - and many of my friends.

The fallout from such a high-profile achievement has already afforded me several opportunities to share my faith and my story with those not necessarily Christian. I've been able to tell reporters and others how God loves rebels and backsliders back to faith and forgiveness. The TV, radio and print interviews have allowed me to share the Christ of the beaten up and the successful. If nothing happens at the end of the red carpet, I've done my best to take advantage of my precious fifteen minutes. I may never get another.