By Norris Burkes June 10, 2018

The Baylor freshman two rows in front of me asked our English composition instructor only one question, “Do you accept late term papers?”

“It can be late under two conditions,” said Mr. Walls. “First, I must find the completed paper in your cold, dead hands.”

Nervous chatter blanketed the room.

“And the second condition?” I asked.

“Your body must be facing in the direction of my office.”

“I suppose that’s an example of hyperbole?” I asked.

Walls smiled. He’d taught us well. “Late papers will be marked with the F-word — Fail. No excuses.”

Besides freshman term papers, there are at least seven areas in life that offer little excuse to fail. In my book “Thriving Beyond Surviving,” I call those things “Faith and the other six ‘F-words’ I live by.” Examine my list and tell me if you have more to add.

1. Fun. I keep “fun” in my agenda by watching comedies, reading comics and playing board games with friends. I write, read, enjoy theaters and museums, ride zip lines and attend the state fair. I do these things because fun releases natural “feel-good” hormones called endorphins. These endorphins combat stress and are therefore good for those I love and for those I serve.

2. Fitness keeps me thriving. I golf. I walk through my neighborhood and hike through national parks to find waterfalls and songbirds. In 2012, I added distance running to my activities. Running marathons and half marathons stretch me beyond the physical limits of what seems possible.

3. Finances. My wife and I retired on public pensions supplemented with a modest IRA; so yes, this chaplain appreciates money. However, the most precious thing money buys is time: family time, beach time and travel time. At 61, I now know that I don’t have to buy everything I want. I don’t need the latest technology, the coolest cars or the largest house. Those things will count for nothing when I die. My money is spent on the people I love and places that hold meaning for me.

4. Flight. I work hard to reduce my unnecessary expenses so I can tour, trek and travel. My wife and I have visited 25 countries to discover that we’re not the center of the universe and that the USA has many good attributes as well as faults. When I can’t afford travel, I find the water of a nearby lake, beach or waterfall. For me, water is a “God spot” where I inhale the sights and sounds that renew my connection with my creator.

5. Family. My best experience of family is with my wife, children and grandchildren, but these days “family” has multiple meanings. “Family” can be an endearing term, but if you’ve been abused, you’ll need to look for family elsewhere. Look for family where you find belonging — maybe at the gym, office, church or even civic club.

6. Faith. No surprise here, right? Yet even for a chaplain, faith is like a good marriage. It requires work. For me, faith is something that embraces me and keeps me from falling when all else fails. Faith is the grip the parachutist feels when his harness tightens. Faith is the grasp the trapeze artist knows as she hangs in midair only to be snatched by a skillful partner. It’s a clutch that embraces you from just beyond the edge of darkness. It’s an authority that knows its way through darkness because it comes from the light. When I keep the faith, faith keeps me.

7. Forgiveness. Memorizing the Lord’s Prayer is child’s work. Living the Lord’s Prayer is fraught with difficulty. It all seems to depend on forgiving others as we want to be forgiven. That’s a pretty tough prescription, but I believe it’s the most effective cure.

Make a commitment this week to discard your excuses and improve the “F-words” in your life. When you do, please email me and share your plans so we can encourage each other.

Contact Norris Burkes at, (843) 608-9715 or @chaplain. His book “Thriving Beyond Surviving” is available on Amazon or at