Lou Carlozo…My Shadow Mission

Lou Carlozo is a friend who always makes it real. As I said in my sermon this morning Lou is man enough to name his shadow mission and also man enough to battle it. So many of you wanted to read his complete letter to me. Here it is. Funny. Biting. Wonderful.

Enjoy –


I have a shadow mission–to get on the NPR news quiz show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” as a full-time panelist.

I’m not talking about getting on as a contestant on the “Listener Limerick Challenge.” Hooey. Nor would I settle for a guest slot on the “Not My Job” segment. I’m talking about taking my chair alongside Roxanne Roberts, Amy Dickinson, Mo Rocca and all the other hot-to-trot celebrity panelists up on the stage, fielding goofy questions for big bucks, telling lame jokes for big laughs, and basking in the limelight of the label “famous writer/journalist.”

When you reach the gummy middle of everything–mid-career journalist, middle-of-the-ladder accomplishment, and a middling level of recognition, fame and not-quite fortune–it is easy to question what your mission is…  I am no longer the hot young whiz kid I was when I came to Chicago at age 28, having landed a staff job at the Chicago Tribune with zero experience and a rock star attitude. When I hear the words “for such a time as this,” I suspect I feel the way many pluggers in our congregation do: For such a time as what? To pay a huge stack of bills? To meet another deadline until the next one comes? To stay one step ahead of foreclosure, past due and gaping maws of deeper debt?

It is only with a solemn bit of reflection that I realize something that’s hard to admit: The consolation prize for pursuing fame and fortune in my profession–where fame and fortune seem to be so much–is to at least settle for a healthy paycheck. And when the work God has assigned me to do becomes instead a beacon for financial gain, then what on Earth am I doing? Serving mammon instead of God, that’s what.

God gave me a call to write that is hard to describe: I would write for next to nothing pay wise, about next to anything topic-wise. The joy I derive from getting words to dance and gyrate, or shine light on some long-forgotten truth, usually feels like a calling of the highest order. Why does it feel so weighty, then? A cycle of layoffs. The pressures of raising a family. The realization that at age 48, neither my days nor my supply of energy are nearly as inexhaustible as they once seemed.

But if I may be so bold to borrow from the parlance of my profession, all of us have an assignment. Assignments might seem like arduous things, but take it from someone who at least had his finger on it at one point in the game. Here is the assignment: Find something your heart beats for, and the place where doing that thing makes a larger contribution. When you do, then you are home. And you’ll discover that anything you chased of the material realm was a poor substitute. What’s at stake? Plenty … serenity, peace beyond understanding–and locking into place with the cosmic tumblers. It’s a magical sort of “click” when your purpose in life meets God’s design for life. But you know it when you feel it. And it’s never as far away as you think, nor as grandiose as some folks (including other writers) would have you believe.

I write you, Laura, not as one who has that “click” in place right now–but definitely as one who would stop at anything to get it back. It is not easy, for I stand in my own way like a Sumo wrestler stuck in a subway train door. In my own realm as a professional writer, when the dinner conversations turn to books published, agents reading your work or some other form of recognition, I have to go mute, nod my head and smile. I’m a reporter, so I’m good at asking questions of my “successful” friends–and genuinely, I’m happy for them. But the questions I cannot seem to answer are the ones I ask myself too often: Why does it hurt? Why do I feel like a failure? Why do I feel like I’ve let down my parents, my family, my friends and my God?

Underneath the dinner conversation, if I care or dare to listen, is the Still Small Voice demanding Still Big Things: “My yoke is easy, Lou. My burden is light. Let go. Get out there, and shine.”

And whether “for such a time as this” means a point where I’ll ultimately step up to a career-worthy challenge, or just do the work God has given me for the day, I do it. I live in faith simply because I realize, as a writer, that God is always waiting to script another page–and that page could just be the turn in the plot where the protagonist makes a bold leap, or takes a small step, upon which everything rests. That time is not tomorrow, in some far-fetched lottery fantasy, or yesterday, in the realm of misty nostalgia. It is now. Always, always now. Our savior, who lives, lives now.

And next to landing a panel spot on an NPR quiz show, a chance to collaborate with the Almighty on the story of a lifetime–my story, YOUR story–is the real thrill of a lifetime….

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