Friday, September 27, 2013

The Gift Of Service

When I was growing up, my dad volunteered to help with various activities and events in our town.  The church picnic.  Fixing this or that.  Collecting clothes or canned goods.  Giving a ride to the nuns to go grocery shopping.

Many times . . . actually most of the time . . . my brothers and I would be dragged along to help.  I say dragged, because that’s what it felt like.  I mean, we have to give up a Saturday?  Really?

One big project my dad had worked on was starting Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  I didn’t understand the purpose at the time.  I didn’t understand the benefits at the time.  I didn’t even understand the reason behind it.  After all, I had three brothers and six sisters.  Heck, I’d give one up if someone needed one.  Okay, not really.  But I couldn’t fathom anyone needing a Big Brother or a Big Sister.  As I said, I just didn’t understand the concept.  Too young, I guess.

I went to a co-ed boarding school during my high school years.  Part of the “deal” with going there was that we had to “give back” to the school community.  It might mean doing dishes once a week.  Helping Brother Fabian (no, not that Fabian!) clean classrooms or raking leaves.  The idea was to give back.

Being a typical high school kid, I kinda, sorta got the idea.  It was a big school.  Everyone pitches in, helps out.  Okay, I got that.  Sorta, kinda. 

I’ve written about one of my heroes, Mother Theresa, before.  I even used one of my favorite stories from her in one of my previous posts.  The story goes like this.  A man questioned her as to why she worked so tirelessly with the poor.  He commented something to the effect that “what you’re doing is just a Drop In The Ocean.”  She smiled and said, “And without that one drop, the ocean would be less.”

“. . . the ocean would be less.”

I think we become less by not giving.  By not giving back.  I think by just taking, we become small and insignificant.  We dry up.  Become bitter.  Greedy.  Uncaring.  Unfeeling.  Selfish.

Got me thinking . . .

When we speak of The Gift Of Service, who is it that receives The Gift?

Certainly, by helping with Special Olympics, those kids benefit.  Mowing an elderly person’s lawn.  Shoveling their sidewalk or driveway after a snow storm.  By collecting and delivering clothes and food for the less fortunate, they benefit greatly.  A child and family get to eat.  The effects are immediate.  Smiles.  Hugs.  Many a ‘thank you’ given out.   

But what about the giver?

I believe there is a change in attitude, in thinking, in personality, in soul.  I believe the heart changes.  I believe vision and hearing changes.  One becomes less “self-interested” and more “other-interested”.  

And if one individual is changed, our world is then changed.  Our world becomes better.  To paraphrase Mother Theresa, that one drop helps build the ocean.  That is the real Gift Of Service.  You and I . . . we . . . become better.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Light In The Dark

As a kid, I was never afraid of the dark.  I was never bothered by the dark, by darkness.  In fact, I don’t recall any of my brothers or sisters being afraid of the dark.

I mean, there were things we were afraid of.  Like the basement, especially the root cellar.  Especially the part of the basement near the big oil tank that heated our house.  Spooky, really.  My dad would work down there.  Tinker with this or that.  I guess you could call it his man cave before a man cave was ever fashionable.  But the basement never bothered him, at least that I recall.

The dark.  What’s to be afraid of? I can turn off the lights, wait a little bit, and my eyes adjust and I can see.  I mean, not necessarily as well as I can in the light or bright of day, but I can see.  I can make out shapes.  I can tell objects.  What they are, where they are.

I was an altar boy once upon a time.  One of my favorite church services was Midnight Mass at Christmas.  All the altar boys would get on their cassocks and stoles.  We’d march into church behind the priests; take up the first five or six rows on both sides of the aisle. We’d be issued a candle and two of the altar boys would walk down the aisle and light our candles along with the candles of our moms and dads, family and friends.  The lights would go out and the church would be lit up by candles.

Amazingly bright, yet dark the church was.  Shadows bouncing as the candle flames danced with our breath, with the slight movement of air.  Eerie.  Mystical.  Fascinating.

Remember that Bible story about how one does not light a candle and then hide it under a bushel basket?  Maybe not the exact wording, but you get the picture.

I’ve often wondered about that image . . . a candle under a basket.

You know, we have gifts.  Each of us.  Some of us choose to use them.  Some of us choose to hide them . . . under a basket. 

Maybe that basket could be fear. 

Fear of standing out.  Fear of taking the lead.  Fear of appearing smart or clever.  That basket could be laziness.  Lethargy.  Status quo.  Settling for . . .

Amazing what one candle can do.  Amazing what many candles can do. 

Isn’t that what former President George H. Bush meant with his “Thousand Points of Light”?

Each of us being a point of light . . . a candle in the darkness.  Making that darkness just a little brighter.  Maybe a lot brighter.  Many of us joined together to create light.  To bring light . . . to give light.  To each other.  For each other.  To be A Light In The Darkness.  A light, not under a basket, but out so everyone can see.  All of us using that light.  Depending upon that light.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Leave It On The Field!

I know you’ve heard that expression before and quite probably, in any number of situations.

In my second year as a head coach, I recall one particular game where we were struggling.  Really, really struggling.  We had a couple of players injured and who either couldn’t play or who didn’t play much.  We had a couple of players who fouled out.  And, we had a couple players who were in foul trouble that I had to sit out until an opportune time when I needed them the most.  As I said, we really struggled.

To put this in perspective, we were a “run and gun” team.  We’re talking up and down the court nonstop from buzzer to buzzer.  The whole game.  Every game.  Coaches and their teams knew that when they came to play us, they’d be better off wearing track shoes rather than basketball shoes.

In this particular game, we were either tied or within a point or two the entire game.  We began the second overtime. One of my big guys, Ryan, was absolutely spent.  There was no gas left in his tank.  None.  In fact, he was playing on fumes for most of the fourth quarter and into the second overtime. 

At one point during the second OT, Ryan fell to his knees, somehow got back up on his feet, wobbled a bit, bent over at the waist and made eye contact with me.  Helpless, I looked back at him, shook my head and said, “Ryan, I have no one left.  You’re all I’ve got!  You’re it!”  That’s pretty close to the message I gave him.  I know Ryan didn’t want that message, but it was the only message I had for him.  My bag of tricks was as empty as was his gas tank.

Ryan looked at me.  He sighed.  He kept playing.  And by some miracle, we won.  He wasn’t the hero.  No last second shot by Ryan.  He just played and gave it all he had and then some.

Leave It On The Field!

Ryan is one example.  I’ve coached other kids who had much greater talent and ability than Ryan did.  Yet, they never put out the time, the energy, the effort that Ryan did.  Bugged the daylights out of me.  No amount of motivation or inspiration could move them to put forth the effort.

Sometimes we see that in life. 

Sometimes in the lives of the people around us.  Those who are near and dear, as well as those we are around and bump into every so often.  Sometimes in our own lives.  Sometimes in our jobs.  Sometimes in our relationships with others.  With their relationships with us.

Something is held back.  Withheld.  Sometimes a little.  Sometimes a lot.

We feel cheated.  We feel hurt.  Sometimes we cheat.  Sometimes we hurt.  We might wonder if it was something we did.  We might wonder if there was something we should have done, something we should have said. 

Most of the time, however, it’s just as simple as not Leaving It On The Field.

I wonder if there are areas in my own life where I need to check, to look at closely.  I wonder if there are places and times where I take it too easy, don’t put forth the effort.  Times when I say, “It’s good enough!”  when it really isn’t.  There are times when I wonder if I Leave It On The Field – of life, of love.  Sometimes I wonder.   Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No Excuses!

Flavio (name changed) was a senior on my caseload as a counselor.  He and I had a rocky start.  Behind in credits.  Not a particularly strong student.  Tough background.  Poor. 

I brought him in early in the year to talk about whether or not he wanted to graduate.  Actually, he ignored my call slips.  Not once, but twice.  So, I sent security to escort him to my office.  I ranted and raved.  He fussed and fumed.  But, he agreed . . . grudgingly . . . to come see me when he received one of my call slips.

To test that, I sent for him the very next day and as promised, he came.  He slouched down in the chair, stretched out his legs, folded his arms and scowled at me. 

I ignored it. 

Instead, I presented him with a program, a work program where not only he could earn credits, but also receive the training for a job.  That got his interest.  He actually sat up and stopped scowling.  Hmmm . . .

I met Jamal (name changed) when he was a skinny freshman.  He came to school to register, accompanied by his father and step-brother.  He liked writing.  Seemed curious, interested.  Quiet, but smiled shyly.

Two boys. Same school.  Different backgrounds.  Different, but similar.

I would check in with Flavio once a week or so to see how he was doing.  Eventually, I didn’t have to send for him.  He started to come to see me on his own, without a call slip and without the security escort.

He and I talked about other things besides school.  He was a borderline gang-banger.  He stole.  He got into fights because he was angry.  He ran with a ‘crew’ because he liked the thrill. 

I kept redirecting him back to “What’s your goal? What do you want in life- right now?  Next year?”

Flavio got himself jumped out of his ‘crew’.  Beaten up badly.  When I visited him, I barely recognized him.  Bruised, battered, swollen.  But . . . happy, relieved.

Jamal lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his dad and his dad’s wife, his step-brother and two step-sisters.  His biological mother was in jail for drug abuse.  Jamal slept on the floor.  No mattress.  Not even a couch.  Just a blanket to throw over him to keep him warm.

But he came to school every day.  Worked hard.  Determined.  Excelled in football, wrestling and track.  And of course, writing. 

He visited with me once or twice a week too. 

Found out that he was living with his grandmother because neither his mother nor his father wanted him.  Unfortunately, he came home from a pick-up basketball game and discovered his grandmother dead on the kitchen floor.  Heart attack.  At one point during his high school years, Jamal’s father also ended up in jail.  So did his step-brother.  He could have been swept up in a gang like many of his friends.  No, he stayed away.  Spent time in the two-bedroom apartment where he wasn’t particularly wanted.  Not really wanted at all.

Flavio and Jamal.  Two boys.  Tough backgrounds.  Tough, if not impossible, lives. 

Two boys in the same graduating class.  Yes, they graduated.

Flavio was the first male in four generations to graduate from high school.  He received his high school diploma, stepped off the stage, sought me out and he hugged me for what seemed an eternity.  He and I wept together.  Happy tears.  Tears of joy.  Loved that kid.

Jamal went through the same graduation.  Received his diploma, stepped off the stage and picked me up in a bear hug and spun me in a circle.  Happy.  Giddy.  Laughing.  Loved him too.

Two boys with impossible backgrounds.  Impossible lives.  Not much support.  Poor.  Impoverished.

Yet, neither boy made Excuses.  No Excuses.  They worked hard.  They gutted it out.  Both determined to make something of himself . . . themselves.  No Excuses.  Not poverty.  Not a lot of family support.


Flavio went to a tech school for drafting.  Jamal went to college on a football scholarship, became a counselor and is now an administrator.  Make no mistake- it wasn’t me!  The only thing I did was open a door.  I lent a hand.  I guided.  That’s it.  That’s all.  They did the work.  They made the decision to change, to do better.  They decided to go through the door held open to them.  Those two young men were the ones who succeeded. Only those two young men deserve the credit- no one else!

Both young men could have hidden themselves under the cloak of “Ain’t it awful”.  Both young men could have thrown in the towel.  But instead, there were No Excuses made by either of them.  They made tough choices.  They worked hard.  They didn’t let life and it pitfalls do them in.  Instead, they rose above their given lot in life.  Instead, they seized opportunities given to them.  No Excuses.  If those two young men could, anyone can.  We can.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, September 13, 2013

David's First Battle

As a former coach, I have lots of stories.  Some happy, some sad, some exciting.  I remember one in particular . . .

My team, ranked in state, had to play another team in our conference that was ranked above us.  Both teams had a “feature” player.  Both teams had a solid core of talent.  By any account, it was to be an exciting game and as you can imagine, the gym was packed.

While the junior varsity team played their game, I wandered into the locker room and was surprised to see “my star player” sitting on a bench in front of a locker by himself, holding his head in his hands.  I thought he was just getting himself ready, getting himself fired up.

I sat down next to him and asked something like, “Are you ready?”  He took has hands away and I noticed he was weeping.  He said, “Coach, I think I’m going to choke.”  Not what I had expected to hear.  Not what any coach wants to hear, especially just before an important game- one that would eventually decide the conference championship.

He was honest and sincere.  He was also genuinely afraid.  And yes, in his own words, he choked.  Probably his worst game.  We got killed.  Not just because of this young man.  Not at all.  The team we played had a powerhouse, a juggernaut that went on to compete at the state tournament.  But we got killed and this young man didn’t play well at all. 

You might say he lived up to his expectations.

Remember the story about David and Goliath?  I don’t know if it is or was a true story, but like many such stories, there is a point to it and one can take something from it . . . if one chooses to, that is.

David was just a boy.  He volunteered to take on this beast, this giant of a man.  David tried to wear the king’s armor, but because David was so small, nothing fit.  The armor would have been more of a hindrance than a help, so David went into combat only wearing the simple cloak he had on.

Not sure what weapon Goliath used.  Spear or sword, perhaps.  As big as I picture Goliath to be, perhaps just his bare hands. 

David’s weapon?  A slingshot and a few stones.  Hmmmm . . .

Not sure what the king was thinking.  Not sure what Goliath’s king was thinking.  Not sure what Goliath was thinking.

Mostly, I’m not sure what David was thinking.  A boy vs. a man.  A little guy vs. a big man.  A slingshot?  Really?  You’ve got to be kidding, right?

As a coach, I went into games with the crew I had to work with.  As I look back, we mostly did all right.  Actually, far better than just all right.   

However, there were those games when, honestly, I sort of felt like how David’s king must have felt.

But that got me thinking . . .

Goliath was David’s second battle.  I think David had a much tougher battle before he ever fought Goliath.

I think David’s First Battle was a battle with himself.  He had to face, confront and defeat his own fear.  Sometimes fear is a very formidable opponent.  Fear is insidious.  It sneaks up on us and takes us by the throat and throttles us mercilessly.  It incapacitates us.  Renders us weak, befuddled, ineffective.  Fear renders us powerless, sometimes freezing us in place preventing us from moving forward or backward.

But David won his First Battle.  He overcame his fear.  He defeated his fear.  And as the story is told, he defeated Goliath and saved his nation.  Probably saved his king a ton of embarrassment, too.

Oh, and the young man I mentioned earlier who wept before the big game?

He might have lost that battle, that first battle.  But he overcame it a second and third time, not just one time.

You see, he went on to receive a football scholarship to a huge Midwest Division One college team that you’ve all heard of.  He went on to get himself drafted into the NFL.  He went on to play for two teams and had a nice career as a linebacker.  A very gifted athlete this young man was.  Who had to, at one time or another . . . just like each of us has to at one time or another . . . win his, win our, First Battle.  The battle over fear.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!