Don’t Live and Die By the Scoreboard

gettelfinger

 

Winning isn’t everything.  But playing to win is.

This post is sort of about sports.  Sort of about UK basketball.  Sort of about life.

Life mirrors sport.  Or does sport mirror life?

Sometimes we need to shy away from the obsession with measuring results.  Pass/Fail?  What’s on the scoreboard?

Effort.  Heart.  Intentions.  Shouldn’t these count for something?

A few years back, I coached a middle school girls basketball team that played their hearts out every game, but always had terrible trouble putting the ball in the basket.  So many times they heard this phrase, “Girls we did so many things well tonight.  Competed hard. Showed tremendous heart.  But unfortunately, this gym has a scoreboard too.  Don’t let our lack of points showing on it trick you into thinking you didn’t play well.”

Judgement in this case needed to be based on effort, not results.  Don’t let results discourage you.  Keep working hard.

Conversely, don’t let wins trick you into thinking your level of play is acceptable.

My wife runs marathons.  I don’t run.  If I challenge her to a one-mile race and she beats me by one yard, who really wins?  Which one of us needs to make changes in their approach to competition?  To allow me to finish close behind her, one or both of these had to happen:

1)  I showed more heart than her and out-competed her.  I raised up to her level.

2)  She didn’t give maximum effort.  Did just enough to win.  She dropped to my level.

Is that acceptable?  Yeah, if you’re satisfied with where you are.  Not if you want to be a champion.

It’s better to lose than to consistently play poorly and win.

Losing necessitates the need for change.  Winning does not.

Why the obsession with results?  Measuring results.  Keeping score.

Sometimes we look the other way when somebody half-way does something.  Sometimes we have no reaction when somebody does something that lacks good judgement.  Our reaction only comes comes when the aftermath of their actions affects us.  Everything is peachy as long as results are good.  But results are overrated as a measuring stick.

But what about intentions?  Effort?  Motivation?

So many times bad results grow from good intentions.  I find myself soothing peoples’ reactions to bad results with the half-joking,

“Well, she meant well.”

But it’s true.  Otherwise, we are measuring ability rather than heart.

When a friend presents a laundry list of all the things that another friend is doing wrong, do we simply agree?  Or do we try to look at the heart and effort of the accused?  “I know they do ____ poorly, but they are trying their best.”

The person who recognizes their faults and works to improve is more admirable than one who can “produce” more with little effort.

The UK basketball program lives under the constant microscope of fans and media.   I suppose my microscopic assessments tend to irritate my fellow fans.  I’m too critical.  I can’t be pleased.  They’re just kids, you know.

What sets me apart?  Most fans watch games looking for a win.  I’m just strange.  I watch games with an eye for players doing things right.  The amount of effort that goes into doing things the right way.

Regular season games are learning opportunities.  The impact of the lesson is diminished when poor effort and execution still results in a win.

It’s better to lose than to play poorly and win.  The scoreboard becomes more important in March.

This holds true as long as your goal is to make steady improvement, day after day, game after game……..in order to win when it really matters.

Last year’s Kentucky team lost 10 regular season games then made an incredible run to the NCAA finals.  A highly regarded team, loaded with ultra-talented freshmen  struggled throughout the season to the point of nearly missing the tournament.

Talent didn’t automatically result in wins.  Performance became so bad that I quit watching for a while, but not because of losses.

As a middle school basketball coach, I’m certainly not an expert on basketball, especially at higher levels.  But I do have a  firm grasp on the scope of fundamental skills and basketball knowledge that are necessary for success in high school.   If you can’t understand and carry out certain things, you don’t play.

Last years freshmen were the equivalent of passing a student through to high school that couldn’t read……….just because they were really good at math.  We had college freshmen who were absent of things that should have been present as high school freshmen.

As long as we’re winning playing zone defense, we don’t even have to learn any of the finer points of man to man defense.

As longs as Rivals has you rated high, there’s no reason to change your mental approach to game and practice.

As long as you can dunk over everybody, there’s no reason for you to learn basic low post footwork.

You get the picture.  Calipari’s team development was set back months due to the absence of fundamentals.  His elite freshmen had been allowed to skip over the finer details of basketball at all earlier levels simply because they produced results.

As a team, they were just beginning to grasp and execute concepts at the beginning of tournament time that should have been taught in their middle school days.

I was mortified at what 5-star recruits had become.  If we were going to get players like this every year, let’s change the model.  If 5-star guys have evolved into fundamentally poor underachievers, let’s get some 3-star guys that have failed enough to learn from it.  Let’s change the model.

Thankfully Cal has changed the model somewhat.  Kids that were headed for the D-league have stuck around for at least another year.  Cal’s fascination with winning a championship with all freshmen is a thing of the past.  And this year’s freshmen class has restored my faith in incoming high profile players.  These kids understand the game.  They compete hard.  They were properly prepared for college basketball.

In tough environments on the road, they understandably play like freshmen.  It’s part of the maturing process.  At home, they get complacent.  They get too comfortable.  They get outscored in the second half by teams that they lead by 20 at halftime.  And sometimes you look up and the opponent has a 34-17 rebounding advantage against our team that’s bigger than every NBA team but one.

Cal speaks one language to the media and public that sends a constant marketing message to incoming recruits.  He speaks another language to his players to make them the best they can be.  And he speaks yet another language to his assistant coaches (this would be the language of brutal truth).

I often speak the language of brutal truth when it comes to UK basketball.  Some people don’t  like to hear it.  If you only look at wins and losses, it seems to be harsh criticism of kids.  But if you listen closely……and watch closely, you’ll realize that I don’t criticize guys who lay it out for their school and their teammates, every second of every game.

When talented guys do this, the score will take care of itself.

Side notes:

*Why the Chris Gettelfinger picture?  Because if you don’t know who he is, don’t even try to argue with me.

*I have been accused of being too harsh in my criticism of the Harrison twins.  Cal has brought them along quite well.  They were grossly overrated coming in and expectations of them were unrealistic.  But they (along with James Young) may have possessed the poorest grasp of basketball fundamentals of anyone to ever wear a UK uniform.  And Andrew has the burden of playing out of position.  He isn’t a point guard and will never play a game in the NBA as a point guard.  His best bet for an NBA career is if his brother is drafted next year and he plays two years at 2-guard.

*If we don’t lose a game before the tournament, I think our chances of being national champs diminishes greatly.

*Lack of playing time for Hawkins and Willis has more to do with recruiting than it does with any other factors.  5-star guys in high school can’t see 5-star guys having to wait for playing time.

*For young high-profile athletes, I think there is too much hero-worshipping and butt-kissing on social media by fans and not enough honest correction and accountability by coaches and parents.  They float in the clouds because we put them there.  And we make excuses for them when the stumble………Jameis Winston is just a kid, you know.  But his actions are most likely a result of his heart & character…….not because he’s just a kid.  It’s ok to expect better.

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Keep Talkin Even When Nobody Seems To Hear

KR 8th grade night

Some things are worth repeating, even when your audience doesn’t seem to care or understand.

Some messages don’t bring immediate results or even draw the attention of your listeners.

But concepts that are modeled and “preached” consistently still stand a chance of becoming a part of someone’s character.

Such is the case when coaching kids in youth sports.

At younger ages, the mom/dad/coach figure gets by with fumbling through teaching the rules of the game and basic fundamental skills.

As players get older, the pressure to win often creates an unhealthy mix between learning and winning (winning now!).  Teaching of fundamentals, good work habits, team-building, and strong character often gets shoved into a corner while practices and instruction are centered on winning now and developing the next superstar.

Coaches at any age have the responsibility to help kids become their best…….at life.  Work ethic, determination, a competitive spirit, accountability.  They all come into play along the way.  And somewhere along the way, coaches have to realize that the kids they’re leading aren’t going to be playing the game much longer.

I’ve been privileged to coach two of my kids in basketball through three years of middle school, most recently my son.  As my son passed through his final middle school season, I became very aware of the future of him and his teammates.  They weren’t all going to be high school basketball players, but they were all going to be high school students soon.

The talks before, during, and after practices and games began to take more of a tone of developing strong character and making good decisions.  Most of these subjects were met with looks of “can we just start practice?” or kids not even listening as they put their shoes on to leave after a game.

A lesson I learned early in coaching was this: If at least one kid is listening, then I will keep saying what is important for them all to hear (but everybody else has to shut up for that one kid to hear).

The man who shared coaching duties with me also shared in leadership philosophies.  So we kept preaching.  And we may have bored some kids to death at times.  But we harped on concepts that applied on and off the court.

-Make good decisions.

-Be a good teammate.

-Decide that nobody will outwork you in practice today.

-Don’t just settle for whatever falls in your lap.  Work hard.  Compete hard.

-Earn the respect of your coaches, opponents, and teammates.

-Success and improvement doesn’t come overnight.  Do your best every day.

-If you don’t like where you’re at or how things are going, do something about it.

-The world doesn’t revolve around you, think of others.

-Never be a blamer or an excuse maker.

– Be a leader.  Do things to make the people around you better.

My son and some of his teammates have moved on to the world of high school basketball now.  I watch as a parent, and not a coach, for the first time since he was a 4th grader.  But the “nervous parent locked in on his own kid” has left me.

I watch all my former players closely now, observing as both a coach and a parent.  Cheering for small triumphs for each one.  Seeing how hard they compete.  Seeing how well they respond to coaching at the next level.  Trying to get a gauge on how well we prepared them for the “nexts” in life.

At a recent JV game, I got an unexpected glimpse at a lesson learned……one of those lessons we were often selling and doubted anybody was buying.

A two-on-none fast break.  Ballhandler approaches basket from the left.  He has a teammate on the right side of the basket, about two steps behind him.  Player with the ball hasn’t scored or even shot in this game (a big lead with minutes left).  In fact, he has scored very few points on the season.  But his open teammate on the right has just scored what may have been his first points of the season minutes earlier (with much celebration from the bench.

Instead of shooting a wide-open layup, he hesitates slightly and shovels the ball to his teammate for 2 more points.  Another small eruption from the home bench and a good response from the crowd.

I watch in silence.  It was my son that gave up the ball.  I looked at my wife without speaking.  He gets it.  My reaction would have been the same for any of the kids that may have made the same play.

I’ve been more excited at sporting events for my kids.  My daughter scored an unlikely acrobatic last minute goal to tie a regional semi-final soccer game……….and I may or may not have screamed like a madman and raced down the sidelines.  My other daughter made a free-throw with no time on the clock to send a game to overtime in a huge upset win……..made greater because I could see that she was a nervous wreck after missing the first one.

But I’ve never been more proud of one of my kids in a sporting event than I was at that moment.  “Son, people notice those things.  It’s not a big deal if you take that shot, but it is a big deal that you didn’t. People will remember what you did.  Those are the things that build teams and make them better.”

It’s not a big deal.  But it is.

“Make good choices.  Be a leader.  Do things to make the people around you better.”

He listened.  I know others did too.

Parents and coaches……keep preaching it.  They may not seem to be listening.  It may not help you win the next game.  But it may show up when you least expect it.

We’re not really raising ballplayers……we’re raising winners.

If it’s worth repeating, keep repeating it.

Freaky Friday

The only thing ordinary about this particular Friday was that I showed up to work with my phone at 4% charged.  Life with teenagers means that a charger is never in the same outlet twice.  Car charger mysteriously gone also??

Upon arriving at work, I did have enough charge left to receive one call.  A concerned Cintas sales rep who had recently fitted my work team with uniforms was the first to call with the bad news.  He asked if I was aware that one of my trucks was in an accident on I-64.

My father and I rushed to the scene to find this.

shuttle truck 1

Our driver, Jeff, had already been taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital with non-life threatening injuries.  Jeff is a dependable, honest, Christian brother who has given over 17 years of devoted service to my family’s business.  My first thoughts were simply of amazement and thanks to God that his injuries weren’t more severe.

It took only a couple of hours to clean up the scattered furniture and appliances that he was hauling, and load the pieces onto other trucks.  As the last of my workers drove away with their loads of mangled merchandise, I remained behind to gather my thoughts.

I knew a logistical nightmare awaited me.  People were waiting for me to give them some sort of plan of action to deal with a truckload of severely damaged furniture and a day’s worth of deliveries that needed to be re-scheduled.  Maybe I could have have clearer thoughts on the roadside with emergency workers, rather than buried in the chaos of a retail business.

But the thoughts of logistics quckly faded, replaced by waves of emotions.  A realization that a very good man that I had spent thousands of days working beside, had nearly lost his life.  I was suddenly grateful for a newfound appreciation and respect I’d found for Jeff in recent months.  And I eventually came around to my own failures in relationships with other co-workers as I wandered aimlessly around the accident site.

A few years back, Jeff had serious heart problems that required surgery.  Upon returning to work, his level of production diminished somewhat due to loss of strength and endurance, along with breathing problems.  But he continued to show up and do his job to the best of his ability.  I valued him…….or so I thought.

This past summer, Jeff had his personal tools stolen from the back of a delivery truck in our parking lot overnight.  When he inquired about the possibility of having the business replace his tools, I told him that I couldn’t take responsibility for what was left on our trucks.  And I could tell that he wasn’t happy with my response.

But…….I did share the story with my older and wiser father, let him know that I’d probably hurt Jeff’s feelings.  My dad didn’t say much at the time.  But after giving it some thought, he left to find some new tools.  Before the end of the day, Jeff had a new tool box, filled with more tools and better tools than he had before.

At the end of the day, when I said, “Dad picked you up some new tools”, his simple, sincere answer said so much:

“Yeah, that really meant a lot to me.”

appreciation 2

I did value him (but only as far as my narrow heart and mind allowed), but it was worthless because I failed to show it.

I already said that Jeff showed up and gave his best every day.  Since that day, the amazing thing is that his “best” is now at a much higher level than it was before.  As my respect and admiration for him grows, I find myself searching harder for opportunities for him to use his many strengths, rather than being frustrated by a particular weakness.

appreciation 3

Jeff and I talk more than we used to.  Talk a lot about how everybody has strengths and weaknesses.  Those conversations usually provide a good chance to reinforce my appreciation for the things Jeff does well.  And perhaps more importantly, it gives me chance to work on my biggest weakness……finding ways to reveal to co-workers that they are valued as a person first….appreciated.

Because I always get it backwards.  “Do your job well (all the time)…..then I will respect you.  I won’t ride your tail when you screw up.  But I won’t be your cheerleader either.  I’m too busy making sure I’m outworking everybody else and holding things together.  Forgive me if I don’t have time for chit-chat or group hugs.  Just show up and do your damn job.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m guilty of living it).

appreciation 4

But good leaders do find time to be cheerleaders.  They need to lead with compassion.  Every person that you work for, work beside, or that works for you…….is a person.  Every person that works beside you has their own personal struggles that you may not be aware of or be able to understand.

Wandering on the side of the road that day, looking at the wreckage, I was reminded that our family business is made up of people that really are like family.  And I realized that I have treated some in that family differently based on performance.

Performance levels will always be different.  Love for family should not be.

I’m thankful today that Jeff is recovering.  I’m thankful for the guiding presence of my earthly father.

And I’m thankful for “quiet times” on the roadside where I can see the guilt of my selfishness and impatience with others, and the need to replace these things with the God-honoring qualities of love and compassion.

The Good Coach

will ferrell soccer

In most of life’s situations, it’s fairly easy to see what we SHOULD have done…….

after we’ve already messed up.

When it comes to the trial and error nature of parenting, we find plenty of situations where we don’t really figure out how the heck to do something……

until it’s no longer necessary to do it.

Such is the nature of coaching in youth sports.

Three short months ago, I watched my daughter drive away to college four hours away.  I felt like the dad in the Subaru commercial talking to his little girl in the driver’s seat.

subaru1

I choked back tears as I gave her simple parting instructions, knowing that I would no longer be a powerful daily influence in her life.  What kind of influences would she have in her life in college?

Today her mother and I watched her final soccer game of the season.  On a cold, rainy day in Circleville, Ohio, after a hard-fought loss we parted ways once again with her mother choking back tears this time.

Macy had a long bus ride back to Knoxville ahead for her.  And we would have loved to have her home with us for the weekend.  But these were tears of joy (mostly).

Macy and her coaches had stopped by our car to chat after the game.  Smiles and laughter masked the exhaustion of a 90 minute game.  A great player/coach relationship was easy to see.  Mutual respect.  Comfort, not fear.

They walked away in the cold rain.  One of her coaches put his hand on her shoulder, just like dads do to their daughters after tough losses.  My wife, through teary eyes, just said, “look, Karrick.”

I know who influences my daughter.

Macy loves her coaches.  She loves her teammates.  It’s plain to see.  It’s a blessing that we’re so thankful for.

If you are a parent of a kid involved in youth sports, it doesn’t matter if they’re 7 or if they’re 17, don’t underestimate the value of having a coach that your child loves and respects.  And don’t ignore the treasure of having a coach that treats your kids with love and respect.

Macy isn’t exactly a kid anymore and this is college soccer I’m talking about.  But it’s an experience that is either going to be good or bad, depending on the direction of the leadership.  They won 2 games and it was as enjoyable as any other “successful” winning seasons she’s had at other levels.

If you’re a coach, whether it’s your first try at pee wee soccer or your tenth year of middle school basketball, don’t forget why you’re there.

Coaches are there to lead, to influence kids.  Winning is a by-product of leading the right way and teaching the right things.

Every team that you coach isn’t going to possess enough talent to win in a given season, but every team you coach is made up of kids that are going to be adults someday.

Win or lose, what are you teaching them along the way?

1)  Plan practices well.  Give clear instructions.  Be consistent.  Build credibility.

2)  You are under a microscope.  Do and say the right thing….always.  Apologize when you’re wrong.  Be a positive influence…..always.

3)  Don’t “over-coach”.  Make sure your spoken words have value to your players.  If you talk too much, players quit listening.

4)  Make sure your players know you care about them.  If they think you don’t care about them, they quit listening.

5)  Teach them the value of giving maximum effort, every practice, every game.

6)  Look into the future.  Be bold enough to make decisions based on building character and teaching fundamentals, work ethic, teambuilding, and accountability.  See the bigger picture and don’t cave in to outside pressure to “win now”.

7)  Keep all players engaged in practice at all times.  All players should have equal opportunity for improvement in practice.  What they choose to do with those opportunities may determine how many game minutes they get (depending on age and competition level).  “If you don’t like where you’re at, do something about it.”

8)  Motivate!  Great coaches keep their players excited about playing.  They encourage.  Their players love and respect them.  They don’t fear them.  They want to do well for these coaches.  Be intentional each day to catch your players doing something right and praise them for it.   Tasks not done well are teaching moments, not shaming moments (see 9).

9)  Mistakes happen.  Kids can’t play in fear of their coach and they can’t play in fear of making mistakes.  Not giving a maximum effort or listening to the coach is not a mistake, it’s a choice.

10)  It’s ok to yell.  It’s not ok to yell AT kids.  Speak loud enough to get a team’s attention.  Don’t scare the life out of them (especially younger ones).  Never single out a kid and go Bobby Knight on them.

It’s nice to learn from your own past mistakes.  It may be even better to learn from simply watching somebody else doing it right.  Keep your eyes open.

I’ve coached plenty of games in the past, but I’m not presently coaching anything.  If given the opportunity again, I’ll welcome the chance to LEAD more and coach less.

When God Speaks Through Silence, Little Girls, and Heartache

My gosh! I’m in a funk. But I’ll get through this.

And because I’m a few beats off and “life’s a long song” (Jethro Tull), the lyrics to Suicidal Tendencies’ classic “Institutionalized” keep rattling in my brain:

No it’s ok, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone, I’ll figure it out.  You know I’ll just work by myself.

Because God gave me a brain and I’m supposed to use it, right?  And I pray but I’m not sure what I’m praying for.  What am I supposed to see here?  Nothing in my life has changed but I sure do seem to be stopped in my tracks.

Peace, joy, happiness, contentment….I have all these things.  Depression?  No.

Maybe “oldtimers” would call it “being under conviction” in some way.  Abilility to concentrate leaves.  Usual passions of life escape me.  Willingness to patiently lead and encourage is gone.  Patience leaves altogether.  I begin to believe there is value in quietly making people around me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to be out in front anymore, don’t want to lead.  Just want to hide in the corner.

Backing up a bit, my wife and I have been blessed with four children (ages 8-18).  At some point we realized we may never have a greater opportunity, because of the hectic schedules of our kids, to intersect our lives with others and be a positive influence for Christ.  In recent years, I’ve stepped into plenty of situations in coaching youth sports and church leadership where my own wits and skills were sorely lacking, but God always provided the way through.

Making a choice to allow yourself to be spread thin for God requires faith.  And it makes your faith grow in amazing ways. 

Am I getting lazy?  Lacking faith, giving in to the temptation of taking the easy way out?

So what’s wrong with me?  Week after week, that unsettled feeling.  Is God telling me something by not telling me anything at all?

Always looking for perspective……prayer, meditation, reflection…..trying to piece things together.  Take a step back because you can’t see the forest from the trees.

Questions.  If you consider all the things that fill up your days and take up your time & energy…….if you dumped all the pieces out on the floor in front of you……how many pieces would have enough value that they would be worth picking up and carrying again?

Ecclesiastes 3 New International Version (NIV)

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

Seasons change.  What is good today may not be good tomorrow.  Even though Christians may be working toward the same goal, it doesn’t mean that we are called to travel the same path every day of our life.

stopMy apologies for the Vanilla Ice reference.

Weeks later.  The same funk.  But I listen.  If God is speaking, I don’t hear Him.  I don’t see where He’s steering me.

I made a 4-hour drive one day to watch my daughter’s college soccer game.  In a 0-0 game, she took a shot with under a minute to go that would have won the game.  The goalie made a great stop.  With 20 seconds left in overtime, she took a shot that would have won the game.  It banged off the post.  In the second overtime the opponent took their first true shot on goal.  It went in.  Game over.

Some of her teammates were laying on the field in anguish.  Others were walking slowly off the field hanging their heads low.  I looked up to see Macy walking swiftly off the field with her head held high.  After meeting briefly with her team, she walked across the field toward me and greeted me with a smile and a hug, “Hi daddy, are you hungry?”

macy 2003

On my long drive home late that night, I knew that in some way, God had spoken.

Parents want to raise exceptional kids.  For me, that means loving and serving God, possessing high character.  I saw great character in my daughter, competing to the best of her ability (exhaustion to the point of vomitting later in the evening) coupled with the perspective of putting a game of soccer in its proper place in life.  No anguish, no blaming teammates or referees.  Head held high.  Knowing what’s important in life.

Character doesn’t happen by accident.

In a text conversation with Macy I commented (in my soured mood) that I was tired of working too much, “raising adults”, and being pulled in so many directions.

Macy has an 8 year-old brother at home.  It occurred to me that I certainly wasn’t pulled in so many directions when Macy was 8. The A-Ha moment.   Character does not happen be accident.

I started writing this weeks ago.  It appears that God added another treasured piece of direction for me today when I attended the funeral of a very special lady.  My stepmother’s dear mother passed away unexpectedly this past week.  She was an amazing lady who touched the lives of so many people.  What occurred to me as I listened to people speaking at her service was how deeply devoted she was to her family.  For someone who loves Jesus as she did, the impact of a lifetime of love and service and devotion to family can never be measured.

I give thanks to God for little girls.  They grow up to be big girls and help their dads figure out where God may be leading them.  And I thank God today for the lady that my kids affectionately called “Mammy”.  They saw the loving character of Christ in her each time they were in her presence, and her loving influence on them lives on.

Know your season.  It’s always the season to love, treasure, and guide your family in a Godly way above all else.

Do not allow yourself to be distracted.  Don’t lose sight of who needs AND depends you loving influence every single day.

Be cautious of trying to play hero to too many people.  You may end up being a hero to none.

The Danger of Leading From the Rear

DSC00469

I’ve always been a “lead from the rear” kind of guy.

A firm believer in letting my kids, basketball players, or co-workers learn from their own missed steps off the beaten path.

I don’t have to choose every step for them.  I just have to watch from the rear and make sure they’re safe.

But there’s a big difference in the ones that are simply safe and the ones that are scared or hurting…..those needing guidance or encouragement.  I suppose I’ve missed a lot of those opportunities by watching over the whole flock without looking closely at individual faces.

Some lessons take a while to sink in.  I learned this one while helping with my church’s VBS this past summer.

I had the easiest volunteer job available (crew leader 4th & 5th graders).  This is the age where kids are on the borderline of being too old and cool to attend VBS.  My job was simply to follow them around to various craft, snack, story, and worship stations/activities and keep them safe (or just inside the church building)……a shepherd of sorts.

On the first night, my group went from opening worship time into the craft room with me “leading from the rear”, just counting heads.  I looked casually around the room during crafts to make sure nobody needed help.  It seemed that kids ranging from 2nd to 5th grade were placed together for this activity.  My own 2nd grade son was in the room, so I mostly walked around the room fist-bumping kids I knew, small-talking with other adults, and giving little notice to the kids I didn’t know.

Something was different on the 2nd night as we entered the craft room and the kids began working on a slightly more challenging project, a bead bracelet.

vbs

Before I ever started surveying the room for kids that might be having difficulty with their project, the voice of a single child caught my attention.

My eyes followed the sound of a voice that seemed a bit deep for a 4th or 5th grader.  I spotted a boy whose body matched his voice.  He was just a bit larger in size than the other kids in his age group and he was seated at a table next to my 2nd grade son Kal.

His loud conversations with Kal told me that he was probably more comfortable talking to Kal than with the kids his age.

I continued to watch and listen as they began their bracelet project.  There was something heartwarming and special in the way this boy interacted with my much younger son…..a kindness and innocence that usually disappears by the time boys reach the age of entering middle school.

I could see that he was having trouble threading his beads onto the string bracelet.

So I just pulled up a chair.

The boy’s name was Gabe.  I helped him string his beads and finish his bracelet.  And we talked.  Gabe was starting middle school in a few weeks.  He seemed very nervous about it.  I assured him that I had three kids who had recently finished at the school he was starting and that they all loved it there.  I told him I had coached basketball there and I knew the teachers there were great.  But I doubted that I eased his fears.

As my group of kids (14 of them) filed up the church stairs for our closing worship session in the auditorium, I trailed behind them once again.  The first kids through the door sparked and enthusiastic question (a joke of a question because of my reserved personality with kids) from my pastor’s wife,

“Who thinks they have the greatest crew leader here tonight?”

Silence……except for Gabe.  He shyly raised his hand.  And quietly said, “I do.”

I understand now that my actions that night had little impact on his life.

But this special young man found a place in my heart and perhaps served a great purpose in my life.

To follow Jesus means that we are willing to make changes to our sinful, selfish self in order to be more like our Savior.

Jesus was a shepherd.  But I’m pretty certain now, because of Gabe, that Jesus was most definitely a “pull up a chair” kind of guy.

Jesus found the person in the crowd that needed Him most, and met them where they were.

If you’re only looking at the crowd as a whole, you’ll never notice that person that needs you most.  The one that may truly need your love, kindness, encouragement, gratitude, or prayers.

Leading from the rear has its value.  But just being safe isn’t enough.

You can’t tell who needs you if you aren’t willing to look at the faces you’re leading.

I pray that middle school is kind to Gabe.  I’m certain that there are people there who will “pull up a chair” if he needs it.

And I’m certain that I’m thankful for lessons learned in my short time with this special young man.

 

 

I’m Not a Freaking Idiot

we're not babies

Napoleon Dynamite gets offended when his grandma tells him that’s she sending a relative over to look after him and his 32 year-old brother while she is away.

I find myself getting irritated in much the same manner, getting fired up because I’m fooled into believing that I’m entitled to be treated or spoken to in a certain manner.

“Nobody talks to me the way!  Who do you think you are?”

When I was younger, I found myself in constant conflict, especially in the workplace because I thought somebody was insulting me, trying to push me around, or talking down to me.  Those conflicts have mostly disappeared over time because of two main reasons:

1) Consistent improvement in the basic ability to do the right thing.  One tends to get pretty defensive when one is challenged about something that you knowingly did wrong or failed to do at all.  It becomes much easier to stand your ground without becoming confrontational (and to let insults and challenges roll off your back) as you progress toward being a person who does what they’re supposed to do as well as doing exactly what you say you will do.

2) Learning (slowly) to recognize the times when my own pride leads me to react in ways that simply aren’t righteous or healthy in relationships.

Proverbs 14:3   A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.

“I’m not an idiot.  I deserve a little respect.”

Respect is earned, not commanded……over time.  Obeying God’s commands consistently over time and serving others instead of self accomplishes this……over time, as long as we avoid the mentality of “hey, look at me” and “don’t they know what I have done, don’t they know who I am”.   I will concede that it does sometimes become necessary when dealing with our own children to paint them a little picture of sacrifices that are made for them in order to help them discover the concept of respect and gratitude.  But in general terms, if you are doing the things that earn respect, it shouldn’t be necessary to demand that someone show you respect.

Proverbs 13:10  Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

So as pride diminishes, so does strife, conflict.  But pride never quietly fades away.  We must always be aware of its presence, aware of the times when it falsely guides our thoughts, actions and reactions:
“Karrick, I’m going out the door, don’t fall back asleep and make Kal late for school.”  And PRIDE answers in my head, “yeah, I know, I’m not a freaking idiot.  I’ve been doing this for a while you know.  I deserve to be treated like a responsible adult here!”  But TRUTH says 1) I need to get my tail out of bed  2) I failed to earn respect because I have a history of fouling up little matters like this.
What about coaching basketball games, engaging in conflict with referees?  Not because of bad calls, that comes with the territory.   I say it often, but it’s a poor excuse for poor behavior, “I don’t mind bad officiating, I just can’t stand it when they’re jerks about it.”  Translation= they challenged me or took actions that tried to show me who was in control.  PRIDE on my part answered “I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m not taking a step back either”.  And……even though I tell my players to take care of the things that they control and the things that are important, I fail in that very area.  PRIDE tells me to keep taking steps forward.  Conflict escalates.  The things that are truly important in a basketball game, in life…….are pushed aside.  Derailed by pride.  Losing sight of things that are truly important: people, relationships, the direction of my influence, and my representation of my faith and my Savior.
It’s a dangerous thing to be distracted in life in instances where we allow ourselves to be controlled by feelings of “what we deserve”.  I’m certain that I don’t want to dig and fight too hard in this life for what I truly deserve.