Dirty Jobs, Jesus, and Great Bosses

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This wasn’t somewhere I planned to be. Fighting the large crowd at a fish cleaning service in the back of  a Panama City Beach marina’s fresh seafood market. On a 100 degree day after 9 hours on a fishing boat. Yes, I was excited about taking my family on a fishing charter. But as far as cleaning, eating, or transporting coolers full of fish on a 15 hour drive home…….no.

But apparently charter captains aren’t real keen on throwing back a good collection of keepers. Good advertising I suppose. But my mind was made up when we hauled in our first red snapper of the day and my 12 year-old son Kal said, “Dad, we’re going to keep these and cook them aren’t we?’  Yeah, sure buddy.

So here I sat with my 18 year-old son, exhausted and dehydrated. Baking in the hot sun, waiting for our ticket number to be called so we could pick up our fillets from the 50+ pounds of fish that our mate had dropped off an hour earlier.

As I sat down on the concrete ledge facing the garage style door opening that was the center of activity, the stench of dead fish overwhelmed my senses. And I witnessed what seemed to be pure chaos unfolding before my eyes. To my left, quickly lining up along the outside of the building were incoming fishermen with their own catch of the day. Stringers full of smaller fish. Plastic laundry baskets overflowing with larger fish. Waiting to drop off their fish, get a weight, and grab a claim tag telling them when to return. Impatient people returning to pick up previously dropped off orders. Seemingly no organization whatsoever to the whole process.

Did I mention the smell? What a terrible place to work! Multiple fans were running but I don’t imagine they were much help for the guys lined up at the cutting table or the guys scurrying around with incoming loads of smelly fish or the guys popping out every few minutes with large wheeled carts hauling off the scraps.

After 30 minutes of people watching, my son suggested that our number had probably already been called and that I should step up to the door to check on it. The man who stepped forward amidst the chaos to get my claim ticket was someone that I’d already taken notice of.  His “calm in the eye of the storm” demeanor was hard to miss for a people watcher like me. He was a young and confident man who was obviously in charge of at least the cleaning service part of this smelly fish market operation. He quickly retrieved our bags of fillets and patiently explained that we needed to take our ticket to the storefront to pay (something that we should have done beforehand) and that he’d just meet us there with our order. At the front counter, he quickly handed over our haul to my son and asked if we had a cooler. When he asked if we had ice, my son hesitated (we already had dry ice).  The worker/manager was already telling my son to follow him into the back so he could fill our cooler with ice.

My son and I started toward our car with our fish, vowing to not tell the rest of our party that our order had probably been ready since we first arrived, and that we’d been needlessly people watching for 30 minutes while they waited in the car. Before we reached our car, I turned to my son and said, “That guy must have been the owner. He did his job entirely too well to not be”.

Back home in Kentucky and in church on a Sunday, our pastor posed a question to himself and our congregation, “How many people have you led to Christ?”. My wife told my afterward that she felt convicted and inadequate when she honestly answered that question (I guess we all should).

My mind jumps and wanders to strange places. The pastor’s question and the conversation with my wife returned my thoughts to the man operating the fish market. Because there was more to that story than simply a man doing his job well. And I brought up the point that, rather than beat ourselves up for failing to be able to count up a real number of people we can honestly say we led to Christ, we must always be able to find excitement and encouragement in all the little things that come up in our daily grind that have the power to lead others one step closer to a relationship with a living God.

Instead of saying, “I bet that guy is the owner”, after witnessing this man’s actions and interactions with co-workers and strangers, I was left with a pretty strong feeling that “This man is a follower of Jesus Christ”. The fruits of his belief were on full display for anyone watching as I was.

As I waited for our fish, a man who didn’t seem to be a fisherman of any sort had come up to the door on two different occasions. He looked like a pesky nuisance sort of guy to me. I get them at my work also. “Can’t he see how busy this guy is?”, I thought. But the manager treated him with dignity, patience, and kindness in the middle of all the chaos he was conducting. And when I stepped forward to present my own claim ticket, it was this same beggar man who cut in front of me. Once again he was treated with kindness, and I overheard the manager tell him when to come back. Not “I will have YOUR fish ready” but “I will have some fish FOR you”.

A tall man of foreign descent who seemed to speak little English had the duty of hauling out the large cart of scraps. He probably hauled out three loads while we waiting. Not once did he enter or exit without the manager or another co-worker saying something to him to make him smile.

There was a lot of yelling, but in a chaotic scene I didn’t hear any yells of anger. Every so often I noticed the five guys at the cutting table looking back over the shoulder smiling or laughing at something that a co-worker had shouted out. Every direction that the manager yelled out was delivered in a tone that said they were all on the same team, and I’m pretty sure that everybody on the team knew that their boss cared about them.

Maybe this wasn’t such a bad place to work after all. And maybe one man with Jesus in his heart had transformed it to be this way.

The fishermen who lined up outside, waiting to drop off their day’s catch weren’t exactly a patient bunch. All those men who thought drinking mass quantities of beer earlier in the 100 degree day was a good idea at 9AM, were probably starting to regret it at 3PM. You could see the angry bully in them waiting to come out. Kids with stringers full of fish argued with parents while they waited. This manager stepped out to converse with them regularly. A true peacemaker. Telling people exactly what they didn’t want to hear, “Anything dropped off now won’t be available for pickup for tomorrow”. And time after time, these foul and impatient people, because of this manager’s confident smile and kind tone, accepted the bad news amazingly well, “Sure, that’s no problem”.

Yeah, one person can have an amazing impact on the lives of those around them. Just by the way they do a whole lot of little things right. And even though I’m not 100% sure this man was a follower of Christ, I am 100% certain that he has a voice that will be heard if he chooses to speak to others about Christ.  Not because he is the loudest. But because the life he lives and the way he treats people gives him a voice worth listening to.

That’s quite a bit to gather from a half hour of people watching I suppose. But anyone who brings light to a dark, dirty, and smelly fish market…………they’re worth noticing and talking about.

And it makes me think that most of us shouldn’t find it quite so hard to bring a little light to the places we spend our days that aren’t quite so smelly.

 

 

Socialism Sucks, So Stop Telling People They Hate The Poor

Speed pitch. Guess your speed on the third pitch and win fantastic prize. Back in 1984 this was a relatively new thing. I was 16 years old and a lover of baseball at the end of my playing days. I didn’t want to win a prize. Just wanted to see how hard I could throw the dang ball.

speed pitch

My brother and I were sitting on a bench at the Pavillion, a Myrtle Beach amusement park, watching other people do the same. We’d probably spent our last $5 throwing out our arms. I topped out at 64 MPH. My brother Scott hit the high 60’s (I guess that’s what made us outfielders instead of pitchers).

Out of money, we just people watched. It must have been a slow part of the day, so we had no trouble overhearing the conversation of a couple of custodians chatting as they walked by. “You makin four dollas an hour? Well suck my a%# !”

For a couple of teenage boys, it was just plain funny to overhear because of the way he said it. But it also rang true. This was a time when minimum wage was $3.35/hr. I was working 40 hours/week and bringing home $103 as a helper on satellite dish installations and cable TV hookups.  A $.65 raise would have been a great thing. But of course my main skill was being able and willing to crawl into tight spaces that the average adult male wouldn’t fit and being low enough on the totem pole to take off with a roll of coax through a brier thicket that the adult males didn’t have to conquer.

I don’t fit in those tight spaces anymore. And I manage to avoid brier patches whenever possible. But I do still love telling the story and getting a laugh about the way that guy belted out his amazement of “$4 dollars an hour!”.

No I wasn’t the most perceptive or socially aware 16 year-old around. But there was a scene that repeated itself every day along Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Blvd that I couldn’t help noticing. Each morning, school buses would stop at designated spots along the boulevard, dropping off African American ladies who worked as maids at all the Myrtle Beach hotels.

I figured these ladies were probably bringing home the same amount of money as me, just over $100. I wondered how they could make it on so little. I wondered if they had kids at home and wondered how many of them had husbands at home and whether they had jobs or not. And if they were single, what their kids did while their moms rode buses each day to clean the rooms of travelers.

I may have been pretty clueless about a lot of things at that age, but splitting time between my mom and dad in those days (with my mom trying to finish college while working), I did have at least some awareness of the difficulties of a family trying to survive on a single or small income. So I felt for those housekeeping ladies, knowing that they didn’t have an easy life.

I haven’t been to Myrtle Beach many times since then, but I assume that it’s the same there as it is most everywhere else in the hotel industry. Housekeeping jobs are mostly held by immigrant workers today.  I wonder how that shift came about. And I wonder what happened to that demographic of workers who no longer hold down those jobs.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m not afraid to venture a guess. The time comes where the break-even point becomes too low for low wage workers. Available government benefits exceed the total earned income (at a specific time), so it technically becomes too expensive to work some of these jobs. So people don’t. They go from low wage earner to no wage earner. From payroll to welfare roll. But their quality of life seems to improve……..in the short term anyway. Who can blame the mountains of people teetering at the breaking point from grabbing at whatever help is available?

But there is a price to pay.

I can’t be convinced that we can celebrate removing someone’s temporary struggles in exchange for permanent dependence. The dignity of self-sufficiency is quietly stolen in the process.

Once a person leaves the workforce, how many will ever return? How many opportunities for advancement to better jobs are lost while they’re away? Nobody knows. The cost is deeply hidden.

How do you fix it? I don’t see that you can. Tradeoffs are made by government but they’re not always wise ones. The bickering is extreme, and the truths and complexity of human nature are too often ignored. Left alone in the middle of “I care about the poor, and I’m saving them” and “I care about the poor too but I don’t want to create more future poor in the process of helping the current poor”.

I don’t have answers. Just a modern day example of a flawed system:

An entry level worker goes from earning $16,000 in year 1 to $21,000 in year 3. But in year 3, there are changes in the number of kids in the household and the spouse’s employment status. So this employee calculates that they can make the same amount of money by working 3 days (when they figure in benefits like food stamps and healthcare subsidies) as they were making working a full work week.

So they work only three days, thinking they are better off. But they’re only better off for right now. Their path of upward mobility just died, possibly never to return. Opportunities are hard to come by, and too many people are missing them by taking a shortsighted view of breakeven decisions.

I wonder what happened to the $4 dollars/hr guy?  He did provide quite a memorable and funny moment for my brother and me. I wonder now what path he has found himself on since that day. I sure hope he kept steadily working and moved from $5 to $6 to $7 and on up to $20/hr. But probably not. Somebody probably “helped” him way back when, and he’s been stuck every since.

Help for the poor is a pretty complex matter. If you pretend to have it figured out, just stop.  And if you insist on telling people “they don’t care about the poor”, just because their methods of helping don’t align with yours………..well, you can just stop that too. Levels of compassion probably don’t vary as widely as you think. But timelines do.

 

 

Mercy Rules And Running Clocks? Nope

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It wasn’t a moment I was proud of. The year would have been 1979. I was an 11 year-old little league baseball player. My team was one of the best teams in the league, losing only a couple of games until this particular day.

I wasn’t a big hitter by any means, but I almost always made contact, striking out only three times on the season. Two of those strikeouts came on this day against a hard throwing lefthander that I felt totally outmatched against. The level of frustration was high, not just for me, but for my whole team.

In a season where we weren’t used to losing, we were getting our butts handed to us that day. 17-3 after four innings to be exact. This is where my memory fails me. Either the mercy rule hadn’t come into being yet, or there were a couple of seasons where Little League played without it. Either way, games were played to the finish, regardless of score.

After taking our at-bats in the bottom of the 4th, we gathered our gloves and started to take the field for the top of the 5th inning. What happened next was unthinkable for a bunch of 11 and 12 year-old boys. Our coach gave up. He stopped us before we left the dugout, waving his arms and shaking his head. I don’t remember his words, but I know they were delivered poorly. The message was clear. If we can’t win the game, there’s no use finishing it. The game was over.

What came next is something that I hadn’t given much thought to over the years. I suppose because I thought I was just acting like a big baby when I reflected back on the events. It just seemed like a typical stupid boy thing to do. But now I realize I may have been onto something that was 100% correct and something that curses youth sports today.

In the dugout, our coach delivered some lame talk about how we had no chance to win the game and tried to explain why he did what he did. We weren’t buying it. I just grabbed my Wilson “Dave Cash” model glove and stormed out of the block dugout at Prichard Elementary School. We weren’t quitters. And I was mad as heck.

My big brother was on that team too, and we normally would have walked together to our mom’s car. But I stomped past him and started across the parking lot toward Main St in a manner that said, “I’m mad and I want everybody to know that I’m mad!”. I kept walking when I reached Mom’s car and she rolled down the window and asked me where I was going. I’m pretty sure that I simply told her that I was going home as I kept on walking.

Mom just let me walk. That’s the way she was. I guess I was cooled off by the time I reached our house about a mile away. Might have even felt a little foolish about it by the time night came around.

It may have taken me nearly 40 years to circle my brain back around to what was wrong with that day. And it wasn’t that I stormed off like a brat.

What happened then and what happens today is that adults are stealing the fun from the kids. And we’re sending them some twisted messages in the process.

Mercy rule? A Little League baseball team is losing 12-1 after 4 innings. Game over. The message for the adults may be mercy. Don’t beat somebody worse than you have to. Don’t leave a team on the field to be humiliated. Sometimes time and scheduling issues come into play. Yeah, I get that. But what about the kids?

Game after game, leaving the field without completing a game in a mercy rule loss (or even a lopsided win). What’s the message? Maybe in a kid’s mind the unintended message is that the only games worth playing (or finishing) are the ones that can be won. Maybe the importance of finishing even unpleasant things is lost.

I know how badly we wanted to finish that 17-3 game on that day. And I remember suffering through and finishing a 28-1 loss on a much weaker team the following year. We didn’t think it was the other team’s place to take it easy on us, and we certainly didn’t want the adults to end the game. It was ugly. But we finished.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that those are the only two baseball scores I can remember from the days of Pee Wee, Little League, and Senior League. It’s possible that enduring those lopsided losses turn out to be experiences that can play a big part in shaping the character of young people.

Don’t give up. Finish what you start. And if you don’t like the way things are going, then it’s up to you to do something about it.

No, I’m not really saying that we shouldn’t have mercy rules. But I am saying that adults should give some thought to unintended consequences of obsessing over scores. Kids love to play. Kids need to finish. And they should be able to find more value (and fun) in playing a couple of innings on the short end of the stick than they do in not playing them at all.

The same goes for the running clock time at the end of a lopsided basketball game. The spirit of the rule may be correct. But its execution leaves a lot to be desired. “This game is decided. Let’s hurry up and get it over with”. Meanwhile, in the closing minutes of lopsided games, kids who may be on the floor for the most significant playing time of the year, looking for brief glimpses of success, essentially have their court time cut in half (because you can’t win, you know). Rushed through.

If the only games worth finishing are the ones that are winnable, then where does that lead the mindset of players on an 0-10 team?  Are the next ten games in an 0-20 season even worth starting?

Adults care more about records. Kids care more about playing. If they’re looking forward to their next practice and excited about their next game, that’s a huge win for any coach or parent in youth leagues. Most kids have at least some drive to compete to win. And most kids should be faced with a good number of games they have no honest chance of winning. They have to learn how to navigate those games and to not feel like a failure for losing an unwinnable game.

Play to win. Finish the game, regardless of score. Don’t let the clock run. Win or lose, learn how to deal with it. Maybe it’s a new thing or maybe I’m just noticing it. But I’m seeing a lot of adults, both young and old, that aren’t exactly setting the world on fire when it comes to coping, “dealing with it”.

I promise, when you’re 50, you won’t remember any of your win/loss records. And you won’t remember the scores of any of the games that you won. But you will remember the games and maybe even the scores of your worst beatings. And you’ll remember the times your coaches gave up.

When You Already Know Who Wins

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Around 1978, Foodland grocery stores ran a promotion centered around a 30-minute horse racing program called “Let’s Go To The Races”. With each grocery purchase you would receive a game card with a horse number for each of the five races that would be run during the Saturday night program. If your horse won its race, you were the lucky winner of between $2 and $500.

So each Saturday night, my brother and I gathered around the TV with our game card (or in the luckiest of weeks we’d have two cards). Our mom let us live with the impression that if we were lucky enough to win big, the money was ours to keep. For 9 and 10 year old boys in those days, $500 would buy pretty much an infinity of baseball cards and Kiss albums, so we were on the edge of our seats in the time slot preceding Hee Haw.

There were times where we were able to cash in on some $2 and $5 winners. But our luck just never worked out in the higher dollar races. Looking back, it was pretty amazing just how many times our horse jumped out to a 10-length lead in the $500 race. My brother and I jumped around the living room and yelled and cheered, thinking we were certain to be rich. But our horse always managed to lose in a photo finish when the stakes were highest. Dejectedly, we’d tear up our race card, throw couch cushions off the walls……….and think that surely we’d win next week.

In our young minds it never sunk in that the races were pre-recorded, and that the 2nd place photo finish loser was always going to be the number showing up on most everyone’s game ticket.

For the races that we witnessed, somebody already knew who was going to win. That someone wasn’t us. And maybe that’s why our anger, frustration, and disappointed were amplified in defeat. Uncertainty. Helplessness. They feed anger.

My oldest son is just a couple of months away from going away for college. I do remember being at that age and the anxious times of transition from high school to college and the new range of thoughts and worries that crash into your brain. He caught me off guard earlier in the week, asking the type of question that he usually wouldn’t ask. His nature is to listen, pay attention to what’s going on around him, and figure most things out on his own.

So I was caught a bit off guard when he blurted out, “Dad, how do you manage to not let things bother you and not get mad about the things that other people do?”

I wasn’t sure if he was specifically having trouble with anger and irritation or if he just got it in his head that I was an above average performer when it comes to anger management. Either way, I gave a lame answer.

How do I not get angry? My faith in God. My life experiences, being able to recognize that most things that people get so angry about aren’t worth getting angry about.

Don’t get me wrong. I get way madder than I should about printer problems, socialism, and stripped out screw heads. But there is a certain peace from knowing who wins in the end that takes away the fear, uncertainty, pride, and feelings of helplessness that feed the beast of anger.

My Jesus, who died on the cross for my sins and yours, he also rose again from the grave taking eternal victory over death. So when we get in the habit of taking pause to try to see things in an eternal perspective, in terms of Heaven and Hell and the promises of God……….most things we get bent out of shape over just aren’t worth getting bent out of shape over. “Did Jesus die on the cross for me to flip out over this? To talk to another human being like this? To withhold forgiveness like this?  No.

I’m sure most of us over-inflate the number of cases where we think a case of “justified anger” is justified. And too many times we’re angry just because we decide we want to be angry (because I have a right to be angry, right?) usually for four reasons:

  1. Our pride is too great.
  2. Our love is too little.
  3. Our trust in God is lacking.
  4. Our vision is too short. We fail to find an eternal perspective.

It may sound a bit too simple. But anger grows from thoughts of justifying reasons to be angry. Anger dies, and peace comes when our thoughts turn to Jesus, a cross, and an empty tomb. We already know who wins. I know I’m not holding a losing ticket. Shame on me if I can’t find peace in that.

 

The Little Things, They Matter

fight for 15

I suck at getting out of bed. Don’t get me wrong. I got my son to school on time every day this past year. I make it to work on time. But I have mastered the art of hitting snooze until there isn’t time for one wasted motion once my feet hit the floor.

So I’m not sure what possessed me to rise before 6:30am on the 2nd day of my kids’ summer break. But when I found my glasses and picked up my phone, there was already a text waiting from my wife, “Can you call me as soon as you get up? I need help”.

She was spending the week at our church, as a leader of a camp centered on service projects in our community for kids of all ages. Turns out that they were in need of some materials for their morning projects and were short on adult help that was available to acquire it. “Dollar General opens at 8. Can you be there when they open, and get the stuff to us as quickly as possible?”

They opened at 7:30, so I was inside by 7:50. There was a loud pop at 7:51, and half the lights went off, along with their coolers. Their computers system and register was out too. “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to check you out.”  They were nice. I understand the difficulties of conducting business without computers or wi-fi. But I didn’t wait around to see if their power was restored.

I drove a short distance to a True Value store. All their lights were out, so I figured they didn’t open until 8 (late for a hardware store, I know). I was parked close to the entrance, so I noticed that the lights were still out when 8am rolled around. But there was an employee standing at the door so I got out of my truck and approached. He greeted me outside the door with a smile. “We don’t have power. But we can take care of you if you’re paying cash.” I quickly counted out my slim collection of $1’s and $5’s and figured I just might have enough to get what I needed. So I entered.

Armed with a flashlight, he asked me what I needed, and led me to the right aisle to help gather painting supplies. He helped me find exactly what I needed (and could afford for my small wad of bills), and then led me to the cash register where I was “checked out” with pencil, paper, and a cell phone for a calculator.

No big deal, right? Wrong.

Those little things matter. The doses of extra effort. Going beyond what is required or expected. Not as a matter of earning and keeping customers. Not as a matter of carrying out tasks that will bring immediate praise or monetary reward. Just choosing to do the right thing and do it the right way.

At the end of the day, the way we go about our jobs says a lot about the kind of people we are.

At the beginning of the days and all throughout, we all have at least a touch of a school kid’s “snow day mentality”. We quietly celebrate any chance to do less work, while sometimes choosing to ignore the reality that it takes a conscious effort to consistently rise above doing only what is required.

Pursuit of excellence and setting a higher standard for yourself don’t guarantee immediate rewards. But they will make you sleep better at night. And I think those people that sleep better at night find their rewards one way or another over time (but maybe not overnight).

That gentleman that led me through True Value with a flashlight didn’t earn my business for his employer. I shop there regularly anyway. He earned something more valuable: respect. I know this man isn’t a shortcut taker. He probably didn’t greet me at the door because he was instructed to or because it put more money in his pocket. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

I’m not going to venture too far off track with this, but I do hope to make something clear about all this talk of “Fight For $15”. To me, the notion of paying a worker without regard to the value of their work or their level of performance is just a level of silly that shouldn’t need explanation. But I at least hope that those who find themselves in support of these types of measures realize something: what you’re doing to workers like the man I encountered at True Value.

Believe it or not, this country is full of people who have consistently showed up at jobs, day after day and year after year. They may not be the highest paying of jobs, but they have put food on the table for people who have just been showing up and doing the right thing since the days of $3.35 minimum wage and earlier. Their employers couldn’t pay them as much as they wanted, but they’ve paid them what they could. These people have moved up in pay, not because the government dictated wages, but because of job performance, their contributions to company performance, and years of service. And they’ve earned a heckuva lot of respect over time.

These workers who earn around $10-$18/hr, along with consumers, they are the ones who will be paying for excessive minimum wage hikes (not the evil billionaires). And when I hear people talking about a living wage and a “fight for $15”, I know what it really means. That we are offering protections and guarantees to those who have yet to work their first day and those who have performed horribly at every job they’ve held, putting them on the same level of those who have excelled. That $14/hr worker? They’re getting bumped to $15 and then NEVER getting another raise. And the inexperienced become unemployable.

There are those whose whole existence is a snow day. And there are those who consistently push past the urge to do less, and instead do the little things and do things the right way. To place these two groups at equal pay levels would be disastrous.

Little things do matter. And if we invite enough people to do less, many many people won’t turn down that offer. The path of least resistance can be a path to destruction, so be careful before you choose it. The path of truth may be full of things we’d rather not hear. But we can’t avoid it.

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Lady Raiders Softball, More Than Just Another Great Season

I woke up from a 3 hour nap this evening. The good kind. I was so confused that I couldn’t decide if I was late for church on Sunday or late for work on Monday. I eventually figured out that it was 8:30 on Saturday night.
My day included rising at 4:30am, a drive to Ownesboro to watch the Lady Raiders softball state semifinal game, and a long, strange drive home that left me assured that no human in the history of driving has ever taken the same route that I took from Owensboro to Grayson (I got to see Taylorsville Lake after a gas stop detour in Bardstown…don’t ask).
For all the times I’ve been told, “Man, you’ve got to watch these girls play softball”, I’m ashamed to say that today was the first game I’ve ever witnessed. After so many years of year round travels to gyms, soccer fields, and tracks, I have given in to the easy temptation of spending some evenings at home the past couple of years. I’ve missed out.
When I sat down behind the right-center outfield fence today, I saw familiar faces on the field. Many of my son’s senior classmates. Some more familiar than others, a few of the girls that made up my 7th grade basketball team just a few short years ago (seems like only yesterday of course). Part of a group of young ladies that taught me so much about being more attentive to the spirit and habits of a young athlete than to their skills and results in a given moment.
In left field stood a young lady who had that basketball season cut short by a broken bone. I still picture her. Smiling, nodding, and making eye contact when I talked. Carrying out instructions to a T. Showing an elevated level of determination. Sending me home at the end of the day saying, “I love coaching this kid”.
I struggle to find the words to describe the spitfire that held down center field, other than confessing that she was always in danger exposing my complete inability to deal with matters of first aid and medical emergency. Playing with reckless abandon and such a high level of energy and intensity that she was often hyperventilating 3 minutes into a game. Absolutely no regard for her own body or safety. Not surprising that her career ended today in an ambulance after pushing her body far beyond levels of normal.
On 3rd base, another fiery competitor and gifted athlete. She had some great instincts on the basketball floor but seemed so well equipped to find success in other sports (and of course she did).
At first base, after a brief stint on the mound stood a player that’s hard to miss on the field. In middle school, she was an “I’ll give basketball a try” kid. Just for fun. Shining through her inexperience was an arsenal of coachability, confidence, competitiveness, great practice habits, and athletic ability. But basketball obviously wasn’t destined to be her sport. Most days, she was already on the softball field throwing pitches before we even got the gym doors locked.
In the dugout sat another senior player not in uniform. The bringer of fun. I don’t know if she had the same presence on her high school team. But in middle school, she had a knack for asking the right question at the right time to bring a laugh and remind me that I was talking about things that no one understood or using language that nobody could follow. In their final game, in a half that found us looking at a 28 point deficit, and the opposing coach calling a timeout in the final seconds of the half to draw up a play in hopes of making it 30, she had banked in a ridiculously long 3-pointer for our only field goal of the half. Pretty much our only positive of the half and a much needed mood-lightening moment.
Just another loss in a season of many losses. But the sentiment among coaches was clear: these kids may not be shining on the basketball floor yet, but they are competitors and gifted athletes. And it’s perfectly ok if the success they find isn’t in basketball.
7th grade to seniors. It really does seem like only yesterday to me.
East Carter softball’s season ended today with 41 wins and a 4th place finish in state. I watched from a distance as the players, parents, and coaches gathered on the field for an extra long time. I mostly thought of the senior parents and players and the sad finality of it all. That extra level of sadness, not because the season was over, but because the ride was over.
For the players, whose thoughts have been dominated through the years with this game, next game, this practice, next practice, and next year, the ending is abrupt. Emotions come quickly that most players aren’t expecting. They’ve all dealt with getting over tough losses before but none of them have dealt with the end before. Some will continue to play in college, but these moments are about the people that you play with more than they are the sport that you’re playing. Those coaches, teammates, and that large supportive cast of moms, dads, aunts, uncles, siblings, grandparents that have battled along side you, taught you, and supported you year round………they’re going separate ways without the mildly soothing theme of the hopes and plans of “next year”
For the parents, who just watched their daughters graduate last week, maybe they’re better prepared to deal with another final chapter. Their thoughts of “how did my baby go from diapers to graduate so quickly” are fresh on their mind. They may be prepared but it still hurts. We hurt for our kids. And we hurt for ourselves. Watching our kids compete in sports becomes a huge part of our lives. We hate to see it end. If you’ve ever told your kid, “I just love to watch you play”, I know you feel pretty lost when this moment comes. Those parents that you’ve sat beside for hundreds of games over the years, you’ll miss them. Heck, you’ll even miss the parents that you learned to sit far away from. But life goes on and you can be assured that their journey through high school sports has better prepared them (and you) for whatever comes next.
For the players, not just the seniors, there are some things that you may not realize, but you should. That small world of the familiar faces that you’ve seen day after day in your world of softball is much larger than you realize. You probably don’t know:
1) Just how many people in our community, that you’ve never seen at a game, follow your seasons closely.  They celebrate your success. They’re so proud of you.
2) For every time you’ve captured a regional championship and fought courageously through full days of games in the losers bracket on the hottest days of the year, we have noticed. You have captured our hearts.
3) Just how many people sit at their desks at work, or in their living rooms at home, or in their cars, listening to your postseason games,  hanging on anxiously for the result of every pitch (or refreshing James Collier or Kevin Colley’s Twitter every 10 seconds when we can’t find a broadcast).
4) The impact you’ve had on softball in Grayson and the influence you have on younger players. The success you’ve had on the field and the way you go about it makes you idolized by younger girls. They want to play the sport you’re playing and they want to play it like you do. Interest in softball is probably at an all-time high, and you girls can thank yourselves for that. I have trouble coming up with enough kids to make up a middle school basketball team right now, but I’m ok with that. Kids need to play sports that they love playing. And you girls make softball look like a sport that young girls will love to play.
Be proud of your success on the field. And be aware of of the positive influence that you have on those that aren’t even on the field with you.
Championships are pretty great. Celebrate them and be proud of what you’ve worked together to accomplish. But the memories you’ve created are even better. Appreciate them on this day. You’ll treasure them always.

So You’re Graduating? Take These 12 Things With You

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Our blue-eyed boy. Class of 2018. Our girls graduated from high school in 2014 and 2016. A short time ago, yes. But things seemed so much different then. In the short years since, the information age has exploded to a new level. And with easy access to vast amounts of information, comes the spreading plague of misinformation and its blind acceptance as fact.

How will these things affect a generation of young adults? It’s worrisome to come to know some people’s attitudes about work and the role of government in their lives. It’s disturbing to witness what appears to be a quickening of the decline in both work ethic and personal responsibility.

Disturbing enough that I have this strange urge to be a commencement speaker at a high school graduation, to share some thoughts with my son and his peers before they enter the work force, college, and the next stage of adulthood. But since I despise public speaking and I don’t own a suit (and since I wouldn’t appear on anyone’s short list of commencement speakers), I’ll just lay out 12 points here. Some things I hope that graduating seniors will do, some things I hope they understand. All things that I hope our own son has heard, understands, and has had consistently modeled for him.

  1. You CAN make a living doing something you love. Start looking for it and don’t be afraid to change course. But you’ll never reach the point of doing what you love without doing some things that you hate. If you find yourself in a job that you hate, do it well until you find something better.
  2. Tell the truth. Always. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Today is a good day to stop doing anything that you’ll be tempted to lie about tomorrow.
  3.  Ditch these phrases: A. “It’s not my job.” B. “It’s not my fault.” C. “I can’t” D. “That’s not fair”. Life’s not fair. You can determine to face and overcome the challenges and unfairness of life, or you can spend a lifetime whining about it.
  4.  Be fair. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and not necessarily the way they’ve treated you. It may require patience, but you’ll be amazed at the peace and empowerment that comes your way.
  5.  When you enter the workforce, understand that EVERYBODY can be replaced. Never give your employer a reason to believe they can find someone to do your job better than you for the same wages.
  6.  Respect authority, respect your elders, and be a great listener. But question everything. Just because you hear it from a college professor, or on the news, or from a politician, or read it on the internet, that doesn’t make it true. Dig deeper with an open mind. The truth won’t always be to your liking, so don’t just flock to sources that tell you what you want to hear or be too eager to believe it. The people that have enough concern and courage to tell you what you don’t want to hear and challenge you to a higher standard……..those are the people that shape you into a better person. Don’t avoid them.
  7.  The government is not your mommy, there to guarantee your success or prevent your failure. Regardless of your background, you have luxuries and opportunities that your grandparents never had. It’s up to you to make the most of them and you won’t find success overnight. Never mistake a government safety net as a luxury. It will have poisoned your life if you reach a point where you choose to not work because you don’t have to work.
  8.  Someday you may achieve some degree of power, influence, and financial success. Liberty declares that you can choose how to use these things. Hopefully you will use them well and discover the satisfaction of lifting others up. But you don’t have to apologize for success.
  9.  Consistency matters. Whatever you do, do it well. Show up every day. Do your best all day every day and never half-way do anything. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts or be lured by the temptations of instant gratification. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You have a long road ahead, so don’t center your life around only the things that are five feet and five minutes in front of you. Cast a longer vision.
  10.  You may have faced tougher obstacles than others, and you may have endured terrible situations in your past, but you are not a victim………unless you choose to be. You get to decide whether you’ll be someone who overcomes or someone who makes excuses. You can’t change your past but you’re in charge of today……..and tomorrow.
  11.  Don’t let others’ opinions of you direct your actions. But DO give others a reason to hold a high opinion of you. Integrity matters. Do the right thing even when nobody is watching. Do what you say you’ll do. Don’t manage your reputation. Earn your reputation. Earn respect, don’t demand it. And earn the right to be heard (sometimes by knowing when to shut up).
  12.  Little things matter. Leave things in better shape than you found them in. Speak kindly to food servers and cashiers. Show up on time. Put things back where you found them. Forgive easy. Don’t forget to smile. Pick up garbage that’s not your own. Don’t ask someone else to do something you can do for yourself. Lend a helping hand. Never fear doing more than your share. Learn how to say no. Count your blessings when you’re tempted to complain. Choose your words and the tone of your voice wisely. And don’t tell people how tired you are. Nobody wants to hear it.

Bonus: Marriage is serious business. Don’t enter into it lightly. Don’t give up on it too easily. It takes work, just like anything worthwhile. Shame on you if you aren’t willing to work at it.  And parenting, it’s even more serious business. It’s the most important job you can ever have. Do it well. Do it better than your own parents did. It’s your best chance at changing the world