And the Winner Is ...

by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, May 2011)

Since 1998, I have been privileged to attend at least one day of the Master’s Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA. I have only attended one Sunday round; it was 2004, the year that Phil Mickelson broke through and finally won a major golf tournament, the Masters no less (my wife and I were on the 18th green, looking up into his eyes as the putt went in). I look forward every year to going, to spending an intimate day with thousands of my closest acquaintances and strangers, and either my dad or my wife. It is sacred. No, I mean it. No other place on earth can you be with so many people, and the loudest noise anyone can hear is the birds chirping. No cell phones, no televisions, no radios; just quiet, and respect (and $1.25 egg salad sandwiches, which are the bomb — I don’t even like egg salad). If a place personified “respect”, it is the Masters Tournament. And the day I go to the Tournament is one of the most peaceful days that I experience of the year. Sacred, even.

Well, I did not get to go this year (yes, I hear the collective “ahh, poor baby”); streak broken at thirteen. It was a sad moment when we realized we could not get away from Birmingham (not that there was a giant magnet keeping our car from leaving the boundaries of the greater Birmingham area — but such is life with family and kids and illness and relationships — alas). But we did manage to watch it on TV (some, in between cool baths for high fevers). Sunday’s round was electric, thrilling, on-the-edge-of-your-seat good golf drama (though, as a kid, I thought golf was the most boring game on the planet, a game my father insisted on watching on TV instead of the rerun of some Godzilla versus King Kong versus Mothra movie). High drama, back and forth, someone claiming the lead, then another, then another. And finally, someone stepped forward from the pack to claim the title, the illustrious green jacket. And that someone was … Charl Swartzel.

Charl Swartzel.


Charl Swartzel. From South Africa. Cool place, good food and beverage, unique country, great golf and great golfers. But Charl Swartzel won, WON, the Masters golf tourney. Charl Swartzel. Who? Exactly.

He won the Masters—the major golf tournament, composed of winners, champions, the best of the best. So if Charl Swartzel is the winner of the 2011 Masters, is he the best golfer? Is he? A friend said he was that day. But is that enough? Shouldn’t he be the best? For a while? I mean, Swartzel won the Masters one week, then barely made the cut the next week, finishing a distant eleventh; in fact, with Swartzel’s win at the Masters, he became only the 11th best golfer in the world, according to golf’s world rankings. He wins the tourney of the best of the best and then is only ranked the 11th best—hunh?

Yet, also, on the Monday and Tuesday of Master’s week, UConn and Texas A&M won the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments and were crowned National Champions. Are they the best? Neither was ranked number one at any point during the regular season (I don’t think), and neither was a number one seed going into the tournament. Are they the best? And saying they were that day does not count.

I listen to sports radio, a lot. Lots of talk about the best, which turns into lots of arguing. It is a national obsession—who is the best, right now or for all time. Even my six-year-old son in his second year of baseball is asking, “Are we the best?”

What does the best signify? And what does it matter, especially if it is so fleeting? We are consumed with it — going to the best schools, the best church, having the best this, that, and other things. Only the best, being the best, better than best. What does it gain us? Seriously? Because in the end, it only matters that day, and then it is just fodder for talk and arguing.

Seriously, is the best what makes something sacred? Is it what brings peace? Or is it just short-lived bragging rights and just something that has to be continuously fought for or worried about?

I guess my question is, what is the point of the striving for best, for you? And when you are the best, who is really the winner?

Now that’s something worth talking about.

To talk further about broadening your expectations and discussing your plans for personal, family, and business success, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website at Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.

The Second-Most Wonderful Time of the Year

by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, June 2014)

The line, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” is usually used in relation to Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukah/New Years. Yet many of us feel that the most wonderful time is summertime, when life is slower and obligations are fewer. Yes, some parents go into a panic, if ever so slightly, realizing that summer requires kid entertainment 24-hours-a-day for 12 weeks. Yet somehow we manage to calm down, and restructure.

Thanks to the intense heat here in the south, life moves a little slower in the summer; and thanks to no school traffic, overall traffic seems to be less congested in the summer. There is pool time, lake time, grill time, hammock time. Yes, the yard needs to be mowed every week (hopefully there is no drought), but then we get the payoff of that fresh-mowed-grass smell. Yes, the garden needs to be watered everyday, but then we get awesome fresh tomatoes, okra, eggplant, peppers, and so forth and so on and now my mouth is watering — which makes me think of watermelon — mmm, mmmmm. Summer is good. It is a great time to sit on the back or front porch, with a fan going, and a glass of tea, and visit — to linger long as the sun slowly sets, to gaze at the stars, and visit. Summers were made for visiting.

Larry Crabb, author of Inside Out and Connecting, wrote in his book, The Safest Place on Earth, of being on a walk with his wife in Miami, FL, down a road that held several retirement homes. As they walked he noticed that all of the chairs on the large front porches were facing forward, with none of them turned even ever so slightly toward the next. This turning, whether slight or obvious, would have represented conversation, an opportunity for words, thoughts, ideas, and life to be passed back and forth — visiting — connection. Yet all the chairs faced forward, its occupants disconnected.

We are creatures who want to belong, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We desire a family or a community. No one truly wants to do life alone. Oh, we may have extroverted or introverted tendencies that require us to be with people or to be alone in order to rest, recover, or restore, but beyond that, we want to be with someone or someones in a profoundly connected way. I challenge you this summer to make the profoundly connected way possible through porch time; choose a porch, either front or back, put out some comfortable chairs, and make visiting a priority. Take advantage of the slower season, and visit. Start a conversation, sip some tea, spit some seeds. But intentionally visit.

Mmmmm, my son just sat down at the table with a slice of watermelon. I, uh; hmmmm. Forgive me for being so brief, but I, uhm, need to visit with him a little bit.

Hey, look, a fork.

To talk further about slowing or visiting, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact him via our website at Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.

In Memory

by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, June 2013)

I love to read. Because I love to read, I read a lot. Because I love to read, I am exposed to several different authors. But there are some I return to time and time again, to read something new they have written, or to return to something I have read before, needing a gentle reminder. This past April, the world lost one of my beloved writers. Last August, another one had passed. In this article, I would like to share four quotes from four of my favorites who are no longer with us in life, but whose influence may be felt in word.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996):
“Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say or do. It entails a long and painful process of appropriation or, better, incarnation. As long as “being the Beloved” is little more than a beautiful thought or a lofty idea that hangs above my life to keep me from becoming depressed, nothing really changes. What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life.” (Life of the Beloved)

Mike Yaconelli (1942-2003):
“Five years ago I decided to start listening again to the voice of Jesus, and my life hasn’t been the same since. He has not been telling me what to do, He has been telling me how much he loves me. He has not corrected my behavior, He has been leading me into His arms. And He has not protected me from the dangers of living, He has led me into the dangerous place of wild and terrifying wonder-full faith.” (Dangerous Wonder)

Calvin Miller: (1937-Aug 19, 2012):
“Oftentimes Love is so poorly packaged that when we have sold everything to buy it, we cry in finding all our substance gone and nothing in the tinsel and the ribbon. Hate dresses well to please the buyer.” (The Singer)

Brennan Manning (1934-April 12, 2013):
“The faith that animates the Christian community is less a matter of believing in the existence of God than a practical trust in his loving care under whatever pressure. The stakes here are enormous, for I have not said in my heart, ‘God exists,’ until I have said, ‘I trust you.’” (Ruthless Trust)

I would welcome you to find a book or two of these writers this summer, and find grace, hope, inspiration, and empowerment.

Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama. You may reach him at 205-807-6645, or contact him via our website at

In addition, later in 2013, one of my other absolute favorite author/thinkers passed away, yet he is still alive to me as I continue to mine treasure from his writing. Here is a quote, plus two others from two writers who are still contributing:

Robert Farrar Capon (1925-September 5, 2013):
"The clergy are worth their salt only if they understand that God deals out salvation solely through the klutzes and the nobodies of the world—through, in short, the last, the least, the lost, the little, and the dead." (The Parables of Grace)

Frederick Buechner (1926-):
"Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving." (Wishful Thinking)

Larry Crabb (1944-):
"Some of your fondest dreams will shatter, and you will be tempted to lose hope. I will seem to you callous or, worse, weak—unresponsive to your pain. You will wonder if I cannot do anything or simply will not. When all this comes to pass, My word to you is this: Do not lose hope. I guarantee you the power to please me, not to have a good time. But pleasing me will bring you great joy." (Shattered Dreams)


Another Fish Story

Another Fish Story

Watching fish slowly swim by can be a rather soothing and fun venture. The kids and I will pick a spot and just stand there, and observe. Eventually, one of them will say, “Ooo, look at that one. What is that, Daddy?” The questions will follow, and the attempts at answering are made. We observe, and thankfully no touching (and thus no juggling) occurs. Nice, calm, tranquil.