Giving Up Bono and BMX

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I was eighteen years old the first time I sang a solo in front of a large audience. Every chapel service at Dayton Christian High School usually had a few songs of worship, a message from a local pastor or one of our teachers, and a solo by one of the students. For some unknown reason, I decided I would be just fine getting up in front of all of my friends and singing, so I decided to go ahead and bust out a song. And what song? Well, it was 1990 so there was no better choice than the epic, yet woefully repetitive and sluggish tune People Need the Lord.

As I stood on the stage in the auditorium preparing for my vocal onslaught upon all of my friends and fellow students, the music started and before I could catch my breath everything went downhill faster than a big kid on a metal sled. Staring out into the crowd of roughly five hundred students and faculty, I suddenly realized this was a really, super bad idea. My legs began to tremble, and as I opened my mouth, my voice came out quakier than Aaron Neville stuck in a giant, slow blender. A few of my friends motioned to their ears, cueing me gently to increase my volume, while my best friend saw me smile nervously at him, then quickly ducked his head to keep from making me laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment.

Don’t look at Shawn. Don’t look at him. Straight ahead.  Where’s Mr. Rough? Okay. And Mr. Sundberg?Gotcha. Focus on the teachers. God help me. This is horrible.

And honestly, it was. I was so incredibly worked up, sweat began to form on my forehead, dripping slowly down between my eyes and onto the tip of my nose, where it seemed stuck for the last half of the song. Towards the end, I desperately found a touch of courage, raised my voice above the tiny echoes in the large hall, and hung my head in shame as I walked off the stage.

Why? Why did I even agree to do this? Everyone was just gawking at me, watching this big ship go down in flames right in front of them. It was seven years before the movie Titanic was released on film, but on this spring day I gave an early viewing of a cataclysmic disaster right in front of them, just for their viewing pleasure.

Less than four years later I strolled out onto stage in front of about fifteen hundred Liberty Students. Gently picking up the mic off its stand, my guitar player began the iconic intro to the song One by U2, as my friends in the crowd screamed “Bono!” I followed up One with another U2 great, All I Want Is You, emotionally belting out the powerful lyrics at the end of the song and walking off the stage to the roar of the crowd one final time.

Eight years earlier I had given up BMX racing for good. There were too many wrecks, and oh those head injuries (could you tell?) were a little excessive. It wasn’t that I physically couldn’t race, but after the final crash put me in the hospital with a busted up face and a mild concussion, I was afraid to ever get back on the bike again.

As I placed the mic in the stand one final time, I walked off the stage knowing there was too much risk and the reward, no matter how great, would never be worth it. My voice wasn’t the problem. My love for the music was never in question. But the potential damage was never worth the potential rewards.

And that’s okay, it really is. Sometimes, no matter how talented you might be or the overwhelming affirmation you receive, it doesn’t mean that you will ever have peace in your heart. On a BMX, I was the fastest kid of any rider I knew, which often meant my wrecks were the stuff of ambulance rides and people staring at my carnage with their hands over their mouth. When I sang, it was all guts and volume, which meant if I went after a note and didn’t hit it, there was no going back. No matter how much time, effort, talent, and training went into racing and singing, none of it would bring me any peace. In fact, both usually left me an anxious mess.

Before a big race or a performance, my head would be pretty messed up. Every failed scenario would consume my mind, and I would spend countless hours obsessing over my plight. As much as I dreamed of being signed by GT or Haro and qualifying for the Nationals, BMX racing was never going to be my thing. As much as singing in bands brought a unique thrill and excitement, it usually left me remembering that People Need the Lord fiasco, and a reminder of what could happen again. There would be no deep exhale with the feelings of accomplishment and of satisfaction pouring out of me. I was always left empty, with a slight the dread of tomorrow hanging off my shoulders. The fear of what could happen wasn’t worth even the most glorious of payoffs.

Did you know in 2 Corinthians 12:7 the Apostle Paul mentions BMX racing and singing in public? Well, maybe that’s a bit of stretch, but for a moment I think I feel a little of what Paul was when he writes “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being conceited.”

So much conjecture has gone into defining what exactly was Paul’s thorn in the flesh actually was, from a sickness or disability or dark memories of harm he suffered at the hands of abusive jailers or his enemies. I think what connects to me the most from Paul’s words here isn’t what he was enduring, but the final statement he makes – “to keep me from being conceited”. In the world of performing on a bike or on a stage, for me, this makes sense, and I guess you’d call it how I was “harassed”.

Just because we have a “thorn in the flesh”, doesn’t mean we are ever without hope, however. If God wanted to use singing or racing for his glory, he would have shown me his peace and power, neither of which I never experienced in these frames. Maybe Paul’s thorn in the flesh was completely different than mine, but maybe the “what” isn’t as important as the “who”. My Savior, my purpose, and my peace are all found at the feet of Jesus, no matter where I am or what I am doing. By centering my life on Jesus, my passions, gifts and goals all line up under him and his glory.

Jesus prayed to God the Father in John 17:22-23 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them even as you have loved me.”

It helps me to know there is so much of a greater purpose in this life, whether I am doing something that’s easy and brings me joy, or miring in something that makes me a bit of a mess. When Jesus becomes our ultimate focus, all of the trappings of fear, lack of self worth, and our up and down emotions all bow to him. The Holy Spirit grabs all of our gifts, uses them, and often we have no clue what’s happening around us until he shows us what he’s doing. In our greatest brokenness, God is powerfully working and preparing us for our glorification in Him.

The mystery of the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh isn’t unlike the mysteries surrounding some of our thorns. The anxiety and indifference we experience while using our talents helps us…yes, it helps us to become humbled and a little bit more ready to be used by God for his glory. It’s like Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Or Moses talking to Pharaoh. Or even Hosea in the pain of a marriage that won’t let him catch his breath. When Jesus is your king, every part of us, thorns included, bow at his feet, and we praise him for his purpose and goodness.  We praise him for the time we have and the gifts he gives us, knowing God loves us and is completing the good work he started in us.

 

For Father’s Day: 10 things I Learned This Year About Being a Dad

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Well, it’s about time again, for I think what is my third or fourth Father’s Day post, and for this year, I thought I’d share a few random thoughts about being a dad. And after nineteen years of holding the title, I can honestly say I probably learned more this year than in any other. So, here we go…

  1. It can be so tough and even a little scary to sit down with your wife and kids and talk about God. Usually we read a short passage, or sometimes just one verse, because the attention span around here is about 14 seconds…on our good days. Admitting to how intimidating it can be helped me to be more prepared, and more deliberate in my approach. But for those of you who keep trying and feel like you keep failing…you’re not. You’re the stuff of champions!
  2. If you buy crunchy peanut butter instead of creamy peanut butter, don’t tell your kids, just throw it on their sandwiches and call it a day. Not one kid complained in this house, and, in fact, most of our kids are now on the crunchy side permanently. Amazing.
  3. If you are a dad and you work from home as a writer, you can get about zero work done when the bus drops off the kids. Especially if you have five kids living at home. Shockingly, they all need snacks, help with homework, and your referee skills when they want to throw down. Who would have guessed?
  4. Having a kid in college is a strange adjustment, especially when he’s just an awesome dude. Gone are the days of instruction and accountability, because they’ve been replaced by deep conversations and a stronger connection. Max will tell you I was pretty tough on him at times, and I sometimes had to go up against the always dreaded “okay, but everyone else’s parents let them _____ (fill in the blank).” I’m glad I hung tough, because honestly Max isn’t just ready for college, he’s ready for the world. I’ll take it! And I am so optimistic for the next five.
  5. You cannot tell your kids enough times every day to wash their hands. And WITH SOAP! Always, always SOAP! No. You most certainly cannot preach this enough.
  6. Dads right now are at a tough place in our society, but the clouds are leaving and I truly believe our impact today can be stronger than ever. Our culture/media wants to take over our part in the story of our kids’ lives, by dictating the moralisms of the day. What a super surprise it must be for all of us to realize Zuckerberg, CNN, and The View aren’t actually the gatekeepers of morality in our world. What I have learned, and relearned, is that the Bible is more important than it has ever been, especially with the turmoil we see in America. We tell our kids all the time about having a firm foundation in their lives, and boy, do the scriptures give us a strong foundation.
  7. Most of us dads have experienced some of the same challenges, and we need to continue to be open with each other. Women are a hundred times better at this than us, but it doesn’t mean we can’t pull together. By joining a local church, you can get the most benefit, and really get open and honest about your challenges as a father. By building a good team of other dads you’re connected to, you can not only grow as a father, but you can find more satisfaction in your blessed position.
  8. It has taken me almost a year to perfect the art of the double, and yes, even triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich. Do not rush the process. And make sure the pan is hot before you drop your artwork on it. You can do this. You’re a dad.
  9. Questions! Oh man, it’s just so all about questions sometimes with the kids. Whenever I need to get major buy in and address an issue, I have found the more open ended questions I ask the more quickly we can discover the resolution. For complete buy in, this is huge. And for your sanity, even more so.
  10. Fidget Spinners have zero redeeming qualities, and are the greatest obstacle to your communication with your kids. Yes. Fidget Spinners.

Sure, I could have written on so many other hot topics, but maybe I’ll just share with you one more thought. Your position of being a dad is incredibly important and don’t let anyone ever steal the joy of fatherhood away from you. Ignore those who demean, belittle and mock you as a dad, because honestly, the only reason they do that is because of their failed expectations or insecurities. And if you need some encouragement, check out the movie Courageous from about 3 years ago. And me? Well, I’ll be at the beach with my crunchy peanut butter and with not a single fidget spinner in sight.

Does God Think Its A Little Weird How I Pray?

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I’ve been thinking about how small I’ve been praying lately. Do you ever think about such things? Have you ever wanted to know what the Israelites were praying for in those final moments as the powerful Egyptian army pursued them up against the shores of the Red Sea.?Here’s a few of my best guesses –

From Bob “God, please help us get out of this mess. We don’t deserve this.”

From Janet “Dear Father in Heaven, please somehow make them give up this pursuit and leave us alone once and for all. Why are they still after us?”

From Jack “Okay. It looks like we’re going to have to fight. Please help us to beat them once and for all and give us resolve to be stand up to them.”

From Amanda “Lord, this is a nightmare and I’m scared! Please help us asap! Where are you?”

From Charles “Why does this stuff keep happening to us? Why did you ever let them send us away? So we could die out here in the desert?”

From Julie “God, let it be quick and painless. Help some of us to escape!”

And finally from Moses “Lord. The Red Sea stands before me. Help me to raise my staff and part the sea. Let us pass safely through, and then drop the walls of water on our enemy and destroy the ones who seek to kill your people!”

Pause. Really? My money is on Moses prayer sounding more like this – “God. This is all still about that Egyptian I once killed, isn’t it? God, please punish only me, and not my friends.”

It’s funny, but when I pray I ask for things that probably are quite weird to God. For instance, if I was Jonah, I’d ask for a painless death in the belly of the big fish. Or if I was Daniel I’d pray for an escape clause to get me out of being sent to the lion’s den. And if I was the disciples, I’d probably beg God for the boat to get to shore, rather than patiently ask for Jesus to raise his hand and stop the storm. I guess you could say I want what seems best to me, even though my perspective is so very limited.

Maybe today you and I could begin to stretch out these prayers a little bit? Maybe instead of praying for God to give us courage, we could also ask him to completely remove fear from our lives once and for all. Maybe instead of asking God to change the toxic narrative that seems to erupt in our culture, we could ask God for the name of Jesus to be worshipped all across America. We could be at the beginnings of the greatest revival in the history of America, and not have a clue that all of this stuff is what had to take place to get us here. Imagine if our nation found all of their peace, love, and joy in Jesus? What kind of a culture would we become?

I’m quite sure the Israelites didn’t understand why Pharaoh hardened his heart and relentlessly pursued them. You and I have the advantage, however, of knowing the end of their story, and we get to cling to the powerful promises of God to deliver us and bring us hope. We get to live out our lives knowing he always has good plans for us no matter what army is chasing us down. And so, when the waters rise on both sides and we discover the clear path to freedom and peace, we know why and we catch another glimpse of why we should put all of our hope in Jesus.

The Vice-President Is Still Building a Zone

VP Mike Pence Swears In Dan Coats As Director Of National Intelligence

The Vice-President is suddenly under fire, and a lot of Americans are crying foul. Stemming from a 2002 interview with The Hill, Mike Pence spoke of the marital boundaries he has put in place, which he referred to directly as “building a zone around your marriage.” The content he was referring to was as follows:

“In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.” This statement comes from Ashley Parker of the Washington Post in a profile piece on the Vice-President’s wife, Karen Pence.

To gain context and perspective, history serves us best in looking at similar other-gender issues between our elected officials. President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both provide the historical context of the highest office through statements or infidelity committed that is official public record.

“I’ve looked at a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do – and I have done it – and God forgives me for it,” Jimmy Carter told Playboy Magazine in an interview from November, 1976, the same month he was elected President of the United States. Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn were married in 1946, and will celebrate their 71st anniversary together this year.

Former President Bill Clinton has admitted to extramarital affairs of some variety with Jennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, the second of which was an intern employed by his office during his Presidency.  Most of the world is also aware of the accusations made against Bill Clinton by Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Wiley, Dolly Kyle and also of the rumored affairs with Eleanor Mondale and Elizabeth Hurley, most while serving as President of the United States. From his original candidacy to the end of his last term, no single President has garnered more attention for admitted and potential sexual misconduct than former President Clinton. While parents found it necessary to explain new terms to their children during his Presidency, the media reported on most of these allegations, while investigation after investigation was paid for by the us, the tax payers. The concern was less about his sexual activity than actually who had direct access to the President and exactly what else were they given access to.

From all private and public accounts, Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, who have been married for thirty-two years, have a close marriage. Karen Pence has been cited by multiple sources as the quiet force behind the Vice-President, intricately involved in both his political positions past and present, and was a quiet, yet powerful force during the Trump/Pence Presidential Campaign.

Vice-President Mike Pence has shown wisdom setting up these boundaries, and frankly, the only people who don’t think so are the same folks who didn’t vote for him in the first place. In the days of rampant sexual addictions, and I think most Americans, regardless of faith, would agree sex addiction is a problem in our country, it is refreshing to encounter a couple who have done what it takes to ensure a strong marriage. Both men and women are falling victim to the false promises set by marital infidelity, whether it is with an actual person or the screen on your smartphone. Sexual addictions corrupt our views of the not only the opposite sex, but they annihilate our views of our own sexuality. Each week there are well over 1,000 sexual addiction meetings in the United States alone, according to the organization Sex Addicts Anonymous, and obviously most of the addicted are not seeking treatment. The narrative of sexual addictions in our country today has a colossal place in this discussion, as we see a steady erosion of the values Jesus taught us, which were quoted almost word for word by former President Jimmy Carter above.

Obviously, the private marriage boundaries of the Pence’s became public fodder when he was elected Vice-President, and they should be considered in the exact same light as we would consider former President Clinton’s. They are either a public matter, or a private matter. If we, as a country, are to rail against the Vice-President for “building a zone around your marriage”, we should also reconsider those who haven’t and what price our country has had to pay because of it.

Kudos to Mike Pence for protecting his marriage, setting the bar high for his family and country, and for once again choosing to honor Jesus above anything else this world has to offer. For his detractors, you remain where you always have been, unmoved by his wisdom as a man and by his loyalty to his bride. I pray somehow you will at least see a glimmer of the discernment this man has shown, and do what you can to protect your marriages.

For those who love Jesus, we should be grateful for the example our Vice-President has set, not only for those who respect him, but maybe even more for those who don’t. The more this story spreads, the more the faith of Mike Pence becomes known, and the Gospel of Jesus is made known throughout our nation. There is a reason why this story has teeth, and this moment in our history is no surprise to God, who uses all things to glorify his name and bring his love and goodness to his people.

The Evangelical Cultural Divide

Christian,

Today I see a large chasm in the cultural divide among Evangelicals, though some of you have publicly (and some not as publicly) have abandoned that term to describe your faith. To be blunt, on a daily basis I observe as those who either did or didn’t get their candidate elected attempt to leverage the scriptures to potentially one-up their political opponents into a theological and political submission. Far too many are copying and pasting and googling whatever they can to prove their candidate/party/ideology/choice-of-cereal is God’s best for America. For the record, I’m still hoping someone will bring back Waffelos. There’s no debate regarding Waffelos Cereal.

Then there are these “labels”. We all sit here and watch the new arm-chair quarterbacks attempt convict us with terms based on our color, income, or political affiliation, joyously cutting and pasting or writing paragraph after paragraph until they pound you into submission, or at least somehow explain how their “label” makes sense. Often, they lack the educational, research, and life-experience to make such claims, but we can cut and paste, can’t we? We can just google a verse and win the post, right? Are we winning? Wouldn’t Jesus want me to change your mind, and enlighten you?

During the election my blog saw more hits than ever. My post entitled “The Gospel Coalition vs. Donald Trump” (https://thadriley.wordpress.com/…/the-gospel-coalition-vs-d…) still gets more hits than any other thing I’ve ever written. From where we stood then and stand today as Evangelicals in America today, it makes sense (I know. Don’t call you an Evangelical).

So, it’s on my heart more than ever just to share this. Stop. And let’s restart. Let’s get off of social media and sit face to face with someone of the other persuasion BEFORE we denounce their beliefs and opinions. Let’s befriend those who think differently than we do, and find out what makes them tick. Let’s dig in deep with Jesus, share our testimonies, and become the church once again. Not conservative. Not liberal. Just the sons and daughters of God the Father, hell-bent on keeping folks out of hell. Let’s be honest and take feedback in stride, knowing we don’t have all the answers, and are willing to listen to an opposing view.

My mission (besides finishing this book I’ve spent 15 months on that almost brought me to tears today because I’ve written and deleted the same chapter four times in four months – I am proud though I only binge ate 14 white cheddar cheezits from the emotional wreck I was) – my mission is to leverage my blog/writing to unite Christians into a narrative of peace, diversity, humility, and great listening skills. I will attempt to coordinate a meeting later this year between the top Evangelical leaders in our country and have them share their hearts, and begin a new story of peace and moving us out of the toxic political narrative we find ourselves in. Some of you are those leaders. And others I will have to get in front of. I think they will listen.

I’ll keep you updated as it happens. On this, the book, if Waffelos make a comeback, and my attempts to resist of white cheddar cheezits.

I am praying deeply for healing, a new narrative, and that those who love Jesus will see that unity in Jesus’ name means something.

Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Tears in the Coffee Shop

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Writing my way deep into Chapter 17 of the book and there’s this young couple sitting at a table not so far from me in this coffee shop. As Explosions in the Sky streams through my red headphones from Pandora, with barely glancing eyes I noticed her hand moved quickly to wipe away some tears which look like they came before she was ready. Maybe it didn’t matter why she started to cry. Maybe you and I don’t need to assume the reasons, but she did her best to hold back those tears, while people around her chewed on bagels and drank their chocolate raspberry coffee.

 

“Doug!” the young man hollers from  behind the counter. Doug’s egg and bacon wrap is ready, and an older man steps quickly to the counter to pick up his breakfast.

 

I forgot to wear it today. Every Tuesday I sit here in my “God Loves You” shirt, but not today. Just a denim button up was all I had to offer the world in this moment, substituting a message of hope for a little warmer clothing. Still, I could do something, couldn’t I?

 

A thought hits me. I grabbed my iPad and started searching for an image, for something. It’s the first one that popped up on my google search, so I adjusted my display to last as long as possible. With some sudden weird flutters in my stomach, I gently placed my iPad against the back of my laptop, facing the rest of the world around me.

 

An hour later, and after some more random tears, she and the man stood, and with a quick kiss goodbye, he opened the door and was gone. Sitting back down at that table, I caught her glance a few times at my iPad, while I kept my eyes glued as best I could on the throws of my latest work. We all have a story, and whatever her story was, it wasn’t really any of my business, but maybe just a little bit. I could only offer one thing, I could offer three words of encouragement, and three words this world most assuredly needs right now.

 

After about ten more minutes, she gently scooped up her purse, slipped on her coat, glanced one final time my iPad, and she’s gone. Maybe it didn’t mean anything for her, but I remember a time when I clung to those words, when I cried out to God for them to mean something in the tragedy around me. Whether its tears or laughter, I think it’s exactly what we need, and maybe somehow this might have brought a little hope to her today. I know it means something to me. Those three words. Nothing more. Nothing less. And its everything.

 

“God loves you.”

 

The Church of the Broken, Divorced, Vagabonds, and Everyone Else

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Philosopher Khalil Gibran wrote “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”

It was early 2014, and these scars were still unfamiliar to me, but there they were, right on me in full view. Losses had piled on deep and heavy, and, to quote Bilbo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, I felt “like butter scraped over too much bread”. Just a few years earlier we had purchased my dream house, but now the memories of all that had happened in the past twelve months made this home feel cold and empty. I was alone, me and the kids were alone, and our entire world had been flipped upside down. I remember spending so many days hiding my troubles from my children, hoping the past year hadn’t broken them as much as it had broken me.

I had once been this happy-go-lucky guy, walking around Dayton, Ohio with a big, silly grin on my face. As a single father, I remember feeling more awkward than ever, like there was something wrong with me. There wasn’t. But everything still felt…off.

I had played by all the “rules” of this life, so how could divorce and all this craziness happen to me? The more I asked myself this question, the more questions I got. Sometime it just all felt pretty hopeless, but there was always that sliver of hope hanging out there. And here’s why –

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message).

Jesus. When life was throwing some wild haymakers at my head, Jesus was standing strong, in word and deed. You see, it was through the scriptures, in verses like these, I was able to secure my hope that God continued to have my back. He led me to a new church, a place where I could breathe and rest. I found comfort in the weekly messages from the Pastor, and encouraging conversations with my friends. I felt more alive in worship than I had in a long time, while becoming far more rock solid in my identity, which is the identity of being a child of God.

And today, I kind of feel like the church needs me, and needs my story of love and rescue.  They certainly don’t need the Thad Riley of 2013 who was pretty judgmental, with appearing to have most of his ducks lined up in a row. They need the once, twice, and at least three times broken Thad Riley, the guy who knows how much he doesn’t know and wants to be a friend to those who need some encouragement and a little of God’s love in their life. So yeah, I feel like I have much stronger role in my church today than I did before I got that “Scarlet D” emblazoned on my chest.

By the way, we kind of need you, too. And we WANT you. Right here. With us. On Sunday mornings. In church. I’d say it’s the perfect place for you. We have room for you. In our row actually. You see our row at church is filled with some pretty interesting folks, to say the least. It’s got divorced people, and people who’ve lost a lot in this life. There’s folks who are still thinking someone is going to start judging them for their past or their current life, but it has happened yet, so maybe this is a different place. We’ve got single dad’s, single mom’s, and some of the most interesting characters this side of the Mississippi. Does anybody but me say things like this in New England? Maybe not so much.

So, why not? I mean seriously, what do you have to lose? The truth is, you have everything to gain. The church, you see, it’s this place where your world collides with the story of Jesus, the one who did everything he possibly could to rescue you. It’s a place of encouragement and eternal optimists, who believe in things like hope and forgiveness and God’s love. It’s not a place of judging and raining on people’s parade. The church is part of what I call home, you might say. It’s one of the best parts of my life.

I hope you’ll think about. We’d love to have you this Sunday at 9 a.m. at Bethany Church in Raymond. What do you really have to lose anyway? We even have a free breakfast! How about this – I’ll save a couple of seats and just think about it. And if you think I wrote this for you, guess what? I did.