Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Moment I Will Never Forget

It was a wonderful, magical moment. Two boys captured for me and for all the parents, players, and coaches present what true sportsmanship is all about. Holly and I coach a team of 5th and 6th grade boys in our church's Upward Basketball program. We were playing a game against Tracy's team last Friday night. One of Tracy's players is a boy who struggles with some significant physical limitations. Tristan can't run or jump or handle the ball as well as his teammates, but he always has a smile, a great attitude, and a real desire to be part of the team.

Tristan was being guarded during the game by one of our players, a boy named Nick. Physically Nick is in great shape, big and strong for his age. But Nick has difficulty learning in school and struggles to remember the basics in class or in practice.

The game began with great enthusiasm from both teams, but by the second half it was getting a little one-sided. Our boys began to back off and slow down a little, rather than run up the score. Both teams began to work the ball to their players who had not had a chance to score in this game or even this season.

Tristan finally got the ball and Nick, usually very aggressive and physical, stepped back a little so that Tristan could shoot the ball. His shot was off the mark. Again, the ball came his way. Nick backed up a step, Tristan tossed up the shot, this time wide of the basket.

A moment later the ball was loose on the floor and one of our guys, Zach, batted the ball over towards Tristan. Again, he missed the shot. Time continued to tick away as everyone watched, hoping that somehow Tristan would make his very first basket.

Finally, the ball came back to Tristan. Then, with Nick standing by, Tristan launched a ten footer - nothing but net. The whole gym exploded with cheers for Tristan. We were all clapping and cheering, captured by that beaming expression on his face.

That's when it happened. Totally spontaneous. Unexpected. As Tristan started back down the court, Nick came running by and picked him up, carrying him down the court as the cheers continued. And I don't know who's smile was bigger - Tristan's or Nick's.

It was beautiful, touching, unforgettable. Not often will you see opposing players behave like those two. Only in Upward do players like Tristan and Nick get a chance to play ball and to teach their parents and coaches how to be human beings. Thanks, Tristan, for a great lesson in spirit and perseverance. And thank you, Nick, for reminding us all how good it feels to give a little grace and a little ride to someone who needs it very much.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Super Bowl Week: Time for a Football Story

David Carr, a quarterback out of Fresno State, 6’-3”, 230 lbs., was the first overall pick of the 2002 draft, by the expansion Houston Texans. He was considered a “can’t miss”, franchise quarterback that would lead his new team to respectability and eventually a championship. David Carr seemed destined for greatness, with all the physical skills and mental characteristics to become a champion, an all-pro, maybe even a Hall of Famer.

Five years later, after the 2006 season the Texans released Carr, they dumped him. He later signed with Carolina as a back-up. Carr’s record as a starter with Houston was 22-53 with a quarterback rating of 75.5, 65 picks, 21 lost fumbles. What happened? Why did everything go south for David Carr?

Well, here’s the stat that gives it away. In those five years, Carr was the most sacked quarterback in the entire NFL. Houston had some great athletes at the skill positions, but they could not protect the pocket. They had the worst offensive line in the league. In 02 Carr was sacked an NFL record 76 times and in five years he was sacked a total of 249 times. No other quarterback has ever taken such a beating over a five year period.

David Carr told reporters, “God put me here for a reason. He didn’t put me here to get beat up.” But that’s the way it turned out for him, wasn’t it?

Imagine the physical and emotional price he paid. I wonder what his back and neck and shoulders feel like when he gets up in the morning. And what does that do to your nerves? I’ll bet that gets in your head. Some commentators consider David Carr to be damaged goods, too shell-shocked to ever be effective again as a quarterback. Maybe he can recover and play well. Maybe not.

Protecting the pocket. You know what that means in football, of course, but it’s also true in life. We better know how to protect the pocket. When it comes to our lives, the pocket represents the center of who we really are, our character and our values, our integrity and our faith, our hopes and our dreams.

We may have a lot of additional skills and abilities going for us – our athleticism, our intelligence, our personality, our looks, whatever. But if we don’t protect the pocket, we are likely to get hurt. If we don’t guard our hearts, we may get crushed, defeated by life.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Diamond in the Rough

Maybe you saw this classic moment from the British version of American Idol. It's an amazing of story of "a little lump of coal that is going to turn into a diamond."

Ever wonder if just maybe down deep inside you there is a song that no one has ever heard, some gift that you can give that has yet to be uncovered and offered to the world? I believe every person has been created with that special something that they can give to help, to inspire, to touch the heart of the world. Have you found God's dream for your life?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You're in the Army Now!

Since our kids are in high school and college now, Suzanne and I no longer get to have those wonderful "When I grow up . . ." conversations that we enjoyed so much in elementary school days.

One day I picked up our third grader from school and he started in like this: "Dad, I know what I wanna be when I grow up." "Really?" I said. "What do you want to be this time, Jake?" We had talked about this subject lots of times, but this day he seemed pretty determined.

"When I grow up, I'm gonna join the army." "Oh, you are?" "Yea. And I'm gonna have three jobs. I'm gonna be a medic, a chaplain, and a private."

"Wow, Jake, three jobs. I think they usually make you choose just one job in the army."

"No , I wanna do three jobs. I wanna be a medic and fix up soldiers when they get shot. And I wanna be a chaplain and tell people about Jesus. And I wanna be a private . . . cause I wanna shoot a few, too."

Well, who knows where Jake's mixed motives will eventually lead him. He'll probably be a general some day.

When I was a kid, my first ambition in life was to be the garbage man. I had an orange wagon that I used to haul our trash cans around the yard. At least part of the attraction for me was thinking that the garbage man never had to take a bath. I'm not certain what logic I was following on that one. And I never discussed the matter with a real live garbage man in order to know for certain. Of course, I have to shower every day in my present job. Oh, well.

So, what was your earliest ambition in life? "When I grow up . . ."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Just a Little Kid in the Neighborhood

One time. Just one time. Kenny promised his wife, Sydney, that when he retired and they moved down here close to Sedalia, he would go with her to church one time. So, on a cold Sunday morning in February, Kenny, true to his word, was in church with his wife. That morning I told a story about spending time each summer when I was a kid with my Grandpa and Grandma Hill in south Kansas City. One day Grandma sent me to a corner market just a few blocks away, but I was scared of some big dogs in the neighborhood. So, my older brother had to walk me to the market.

After the service, Sydney brought Kenny to the door to meet me. Kenny shook my hand and pulled me aside to ask me a question. "Where abouts did your grandparents live in Kansas City?" I told him, "Just off Swope Parkway a little ways, on 54th Street Terrace."

Kenny said, "And that market you told about, was that on Jackson?" I nodded, "Yes, on the corner there on Jackson." He said, "Well, preacher, I used to live just down the street from that market and I grew up with some Hills, some boys in that neighborhood." "Really?" I said, "What were their names?" Kenny said, "I remember Buster and Art and Danny was my age." I smiled as it all began to come together. "Those boys are my uncles, Kenny. Their older brother, Melvin, was my dad."

Kenny brightened up and he grabbed my hand again. "You're Mel's boy? I know your family. I grew up with those boys. We played football in the school yard down the street. And your grandma and grandpa were wonderful people. I was their newspaper boy for about five years. I don't know how many times I had a meal at their table or a glass of lemonade in your grandma's kitchen. They were so kind to me."

Kenny was touched, really moved by the memories of the love he had been shown as a boy in the old neighborhood. And from that day Kenny and I have had a bond of friendship that began way back before I was born, a friendship now passed from generation to generation. A few months later I baptized Kenny as he professed his faith in Christ. The next summer I invited Kenny and Sydney to come to our Hill family reunion in Kansas City. It was great to see my uncles catch up with Kenny who they had not seen since high school graduation.

So Kenny has become my extra uncle and also a wonderful little window into my dad's childhood. Kenny has told me lots of stories that I would never have heard without the memories of Grandma and Grandpa's paper boy.

I am moved by two wonderful thoughts as I think about my new Uncle Kenny. First, I am amazed by the power of simple acts of kindness. Sixty years later, more than fifteen years after their deaths, the kindness of my grandparents shown to a little kid in the neighborhood still has the power to open the doors to friendship and faith.

And ponder this question: Was it just a coincidence that on that one Sunday when Kenny kept his promise and came with Sydney to church that I just happened to share a childhood memory of my grandparents and their neighborhood? I don't think so. Even sweeter than the kindness of my grandparents is the kindness of a heavenly Father who is always seeking, using every possible means to reach those He loves. Apparently, God wanted Kenny in His family, too.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to start paying a little more attention to that kid down the street.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another Year Older, Maybe a Little Wiser

Well, as of tomorrow, I will chalk up another year, turning forty-eight years old. That seems pretty old to me, whether I say it or write it. I played football a couple of weeks ago with Sam and a bunch of his college and high school buddies. We started out playing "touch" but soon the rules were changed to "tackle." We all had a blast and I got along alright, even scored a couple of times, though I was more than twice as old as the rest of the guys. It was about four hours after the game as I tried to get up out of my chair, when I realized my body was going to pay a painful price for my gridiron glory. There's a reason why 48 year olds don't play football. Pretty good reasons. I should know better. I just hate to quit.

I don't really dread getting older. What bugs me is the fear of not making the most of my time, not being active and useful each day and each year. I want to make the most of my time, all of it. Don't you? And hopefully, I'm learning a little more about life and faith along the way.

I like the words to a song by Randy Stonehill called "Prisoner of Hope." His words could easily be my own as I mark another year of life. Can you identify with his words?

I'm slow to learn, I'm slow to change
I find this roller coaster life both beautiful and strange
I try my best to sort things out
But at times I'm sort of clueless as to what this thing's about
And I've been wrong and I've been used
But in light of the big picture I'm still peaceful and bemused

I'm slow to judge, I'm slow to fight
I confess that my own track record is far from lily white
Sometimes I'm scared, sometimes I doubt
Sometimes I make such a mess I'm sure there's no way out
And I have failed and I have cried
But at times I find it's healthy when you dine on humble pie

Bound for all eternity by this three chord rope-
Father, Son and Spirit- I'm a prisoner of hope.

Captured by a love I don't deserve or understand
Held within the grip of these awesome, holy hands
You may say this is just the dream of desperate men
But far from desperate dreaming, I am waking up again

Prisoner of hope tonight
With a reason to be faithful
I'm a prisoner of hope tonight
With a reason to be grateful

Let's you and I make the most of this day, the most of this year, the most of this life. We only get one shot. One and done. Better live and learn as we go.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Reason Behind the Rhinos

It all started with a strange movie, a little known film called "Rhinoceros." I was in college and sometimes they would show these obscure movies on campus at a reduced price, just 25 cents. "Rhinoceros" was one of these two-bit flicks, and I wandered in one night to watch. The movie was about an offbeat middle-aged man who believed he was slowly, steadily turning into a rhinoceros. Each morning he would look in the mirror and check the bump on his forehead which he was sure would grow to become a great horn. And, as you might expect, his personality was transformed as well. No, this was not classic cinema and if there was some sophisticated point to the story, it was lost on me. But it was funny and it started me thinking about rhinos.

Later that year I started a ball team on campus to compete with the fraternities in intramural football. I called our team the Rhinos. Before long we were fielding a team in several sports, complete with snazzy black and gray uniforms and our own booster club - 47 college girls called the "Rhino Rooters." Hard to believe, isn't it? We had a lot of fun with that.

Well, the next summer I was a youth minister at a church in Topeka, and the kids noticed my Rhinos jerseys and t-shirt. After the summer the youth group gave me a stuffed rhino named Ronnie and thus began my great rhino hunt.

I guess I have nearly two hundred now, some as small as your little finger and a few that are 2-3 feet long. My rhinos have come from all over the world, exotic places like South Africa and Argentina, and close to home places like Swope Park Zoo and the Stuckey's up on I-70 at the Pilot Grove exit. I have stuffed rhinos, carved rhinos, wax rhinos, and stone rhinos. I have rhinos made from alabaster and crystal, rosewood and driftwood, pewter and porcelain. I have rhino mugs, rhino pens, a rhino letter opener, a rhino shoe horn. I have rhino necklaces, rhino belt buckles, and even rhino salad spoons. Other relatives and friends have been captured by the thrill of the hunt and have added to my rhinos. A missionary friend gave me an actual rhino tooth - a really cool part of my collection and a gentle reminder to brush regularly.

All this rhino stuff, the whole herd or "crash" technically speaking, stays on a few shelves in my office now. Suzanne seemed to struggle with working my rhinos into her home decorating plans. Imagine that. She suggested that maybe my office was a better place for me and my rhinos.

My kids have asked me more than once, "Dad, who gets your rhinos when you're dead?" Can't tell you how that warms my heart. Suzanne will probably just sell them all on ebay. Okay, maybe it's a little weird, but I guess everyone should collect something. How about you?