Everything was set. For months last year we worked on finding a date that Mitch Albom could visit Granger and talk about his spiritual journey. About four months ago we finally landed on a date that worked. We designed a series called Have A Little Faith, titled after his book, and began publicizing the event. I'll admit--I was surprised by the response. (I shouldn't have been...I mean it makes sense that a guy who has sold 26 million books and appears regularly on ESPN might have a few fans). But it's probably the most energized I have seen our crowd in years about inviting their friends. We spent thousands of dollars on promotion and you could feel the momentum building. By last week, we were already talking that the Mitch Albom weekend might be bigger than Easter.
And that's when Thursday became not just another day...
2:43am - An email is sent from a representative of Mitch's team saying that he "just received a disturbing email." Of course, we are all sleeping. No one gets the message.
7:04am - Mark Waltz gets the worm (he's the early bird) and also gets the email. He forwards it to me, but of course, I'm still sleeping.
8:35am - I get the email forwarded from Waltz. It doesn't look good. Mitch is out of the country and won't be able to get back in time for any speaking engagements next week. (Uh, yeah, he's supposed to be here in ten days!). We can't tell if this is a "possibly" or "for sure" thing. Is there still an outside chance he's coming? I call Kem Meyer (who has been our point of contact) and she is already trying to contact the rep to confirm.
9:10am - I call Jason Miller and give him a heads up. Most our team is heading out of the country, so the "weekend formerly known as Mitch Albom" is already programmed and everyone is leaving. Tomorrow.
9:40am - Jami calls our mail fulfillment house and puts the postcards set to mail today on hold. A call just a few hours later would have cost us an additional $10,000.
9:55am - Still not able to reach our contact, we start making stuff up. Seeing that Mitch was on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson just two nights previous talking about a children's orphanage in Haiti--we assume his heart has been captured by those children and he's refusing to do any more speaking engagements until he finishes building the orphanage. His website also seems to indicate that his focus is on Haiti. But we are just grasping at straws. We really have no idea.
10:24am - I email out a possible replacement series with the disclaimer: "Came to me in the shower. Not sure if it's good or not." Here is my actual proposal.
10:45am - This new idea begins to take shape. We are disappointed. Others will be disappointed. What if we talk straight about how to deal with disappointment? It fits the weekend programming pretty well. It connects to the reason we think that Mitch is canceling. Our team rallies -- one of the staff suggests that we actually raise money for Mitch's orphanage in Haiti on the weekend that he's not here. If it has captured his heart so much that he'd cancel an engagement in front of thousands of people...let's just get behind it and see what happens! The team starts getting excited.
11:30am - Jason and I meet with Rob Wegner and Mark Beeson and bring them up to speed: Mitch canceled. We think he's in Haiti but haven't confirmed. We've designed a new series called "When Life Sucks." We might even raise money for his orphanage. After a few minutes of groaning (from the news, not the Moes burritos), we are all on the same page and give it a green light.
2:21pm - Mark Beeson calls me back. Still likes the concept, but having second thoughts about the title with the "S" word. I call the team, and fifteen minutes later they have a new title and are working on a new design.
4:20pm - We still don't know if Mitch is in Haiti, so we take any mention of the orphanage off the promotion piece (knowing we can always focus on it "live") and finalize the design which has to go to the printer before 5:00pm. See design below.
4:45pm - We begin talking about how we will give the crowd this "bad news" on the weekend. Remember, thousands of people have invited friends. It is our desire to be authentic about the disappointment without trashing anyone. We'll make the announcement at the end of the service.
5:19pm - I send an email to our entire staff team letting them know of the news and asking them to help us communicate this weekend.
6:27pm - We finally get word on the reason for the cancellation. Mitch is not in Haiti. He's in Singapore. Then heading to Australia and then New Zealand. Why? He is on a book tour and his team double-booked him. It was totally human error. They are very sorry. Later in the weekend Mitch calls me from Singapore to apologize. He feels very bad and is really hoping we can re-book.
And that, my friends, was the day our plans came crashing down. There is no possible way I could be prouder of our team who took very bad news on a very busy day and came up with an amazing solution. You can't do that with stinky attitudes, low-capacity leaders or a team full of doers. They soared under pressure--and I believe God is going to use the next three weekends in ways we could never imagine.