As I reflect on our season, I don’t dwell on the wins or losses, or the touchdowns or tackles; I instead think about the 3 lessons my fellow coaches and I have attempted to instill in each of the young men on our team.
(1) A Simple Motto. We ask our boys numerous times during each practice, “What’s our motto?” They respond at the top of their lungs, “Hard Work.” Their habit of hard work should stretch from the football field, to the classroom, to the doors of their home. We teach them to work hard not for our benefit, but because it gives them both dignity in a job well done today and the tools and character to succeed in the future as adults.
(2) Response-ability: As my good friend and a guy I used to coach with (Mike Hernandez) used to tell our team, “It’s not if you face obstacles, but when.” Sports provide a great avenue to teach our kids that life is full of obstacles. In light of this, we remind our team of their “response-ability” – translation – they have the ability to choose their response to each situation they face in life. They are not powerless when it comes to their choices. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, once wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s response.” It’s important our youth learn this lesson now!
(3) Identity: This is the most important lesson. From the first day of conditioning practices to the team party at the conclusion of the season we tell our boys, “You are loved.” Their identity is in no way tied to their position or performance on the field (for better or worse). For the Christ-following athlete and fan, identity in Christ becomes immeasurably important at this very point. Understanding that in Jesus we are loved unconditionally (Ephesians 1:4–5), forgiven freely (Romans 4:7–8), pursued endlessly (Psalm 23:6), and given meaning and purpose that stretch far beyond the scoreboard (Ephesians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:9) can free us to rise above the scoreboard in victory and defeat.
I understand and respect the debate concerning youth sports. There are healthy arguments for and against competition at young ages. But ultimately I believe sports are a gift, a good gift, which God gave through human creativity for our enjoyment. And just like all of life, we ought to approach it with thoughtfulness, discernment, and intentionality.
From the cheerleaders who provide enthusiasm and spirit, to the parents who trust us with their boys, to my fellow coaches who sacrifice so much of their time, and most importantly to the boys we are blessed to lead, I am thankful for football season….and the lessons we all learn.
Throughout my military career, and even still today, I am an avid consumer of military history. Probably because I spent a majority of my military career on the east coast, I am particularly drawn to the Civil War. Like many who study this time period, I am often draw to the Battle at Gettysburg.
When it comes to this battle, I have continually been awed by the decisions and actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. I have read Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Killer Angels” and watched Jeff Daniels remarkably play Chamberlain in the movie “Gettysburg.” However it was not until I had the privilege of taking a group of my Marines to the actual battlefield that I truly understood this tragic conflict.
Together we climbed the slope of Little Round top and walked the path of Pickett’s Charge. We studied the defensive positions on Cemetery Hill and continually discussed the decision making of opposing Generals Lee and Meade. From human factors to combined arms, we immersed ourselves in the significance of this three day battle.
During a moment of reflection on the hallowed ground of Little Round Top, I paused to think about the decisions Chamberlain had to make. Against all odds, he stubbornly and courageously rallied his forces. Many historians claim his actions saved the day and possibly turned the tide of the Civil War. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation simply stated: “For daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on Big Round Top.”
It has been six years since I was last at Gettysburg. I no longer view Chamberlain’s actions through the lens of a fighter leader. I now view his actions through the lens of a father leader. The battlefield I must now protect and hold is called my home. At stake is the hearts and minds of my wife and children.
The world will continually tell my wife and children lies about their identity.
They will continually be presented with expectations that drown their worth.
They will continually be attacked….
I have always been amazed at how one man can change the course of a battle. Husbands and Fathers….more than ever before, I believe it is our duty to do so now!!
Like Chamberlain we must not back down. We must continue to love, lead and serve well. We must continue to point them to the Father who created us for His glory.
This is a battle worth fighting….Will you join me?
Day 5: July 15th / 10:45pm local time.
Every night this week, all 61 of us gather outside in a little pavilion, sing a few worship songs, and “download” our experiences for the day. But tonight was different.
Tonight I sat on a concrete floor and listened for over two hours as student after student got up and spoke.
Tears flowed as I heard our young ladies hurt for the local women they served at House of Hope.
Tears flowed as the young men spoke about the mantle of leadership they inspire to hold within their schools and at church.
Tears flowed as adult leaders continually praised the students, many of them they have known since preschool.
Tears flowed as student and adult spoke about how God had used them even in the mundane.
I ended the night by quickly reviewing our theme for the week, “It’s not about me” and then I reminded them of the 2 previous questions we have discussed:
- What breaks your heart?
- What does love require?
Our last question this week was: “Where are my feet?”
You see this week many of our students have talked about what they wanted to do in the future. Tonight I wanted to remind them that it is important for us to remember that we don’t have to wait. For all of us, our feet are currently resting within the exact geographic circle of God’s calling on our lives. In the future God may call you outside that circle but it is where He has us for now. Our obedience to Him only matters in the present!
There are many more stories to hear about this week. Find one of our students, sit down with them, and ask them to share. You’ll be inspired…..I was.
Day 4: July 14th / 10:30pm local time.
Today was our last day of service. Our students have been working extremely hard this week and it showed this morning. However, as expected, these young men and women rallied and finished their last day with the same energy and enthusiasm as day one!
Tonight during our download time we paused to thank the Loftsgard Family. Marilyn and her husband Eric are missionaries in Nicaragua. They have been serving the people of this country for over 18 years and have been partnering with Kingsland for over a decade. They have seen dozens of our teams come in and out of here and always welcome us with open arms. This is probably why so many of our students through the years refer to their family as “our” missionaries!
This week Marilyn has been our hero. From buying bottled water to translating to keeping us on task, Marilyn was the key to our success this week. She made all the pre-trip arrangements and her attention to detail and has made our stay so much easier! We could not have done any of this without her!
But even more admiring is her patience and grace with us. She handles our complaints, questions, and comments with such poise. I can see why the people of Nicaragua love her so much!
We were also blessed to have Marilyn’s daughter Leah serve with us. Leah was our point person at House of Hope and showed our teams what true service and unconditional love is all about. Seeing a family so united in service is humbling.
Tomorrow we take a day to enjoy the other parts of Nicaragua. Weather permitting we hope to tour a volcano, take a boat ride around the lake, and enjoy some time in the local market. Our team is definitely looking forward to tomorrow!
Keep your prayers coming!
Day 3: July 13th / 10:30pm local time.
Today was great but tough!
Our middle of the week fatigue kicked in today. It was hot and many on our team had to work outside. However I was amazed at how our team rallied around our mission, motto, and each other.
Highlights of today include:
More mowing with a machete. Why you ask?? Tesoros de Dios was recently able to buy the small field adjacent to their facility. Horse therapy is a large portion of their rehabilitation so they plan to use this field to expand this part of their treatment. As you can imagine, they do not have a lot of full time help to clear a field so our teams have been a huge blessing to them in this area. Who know removing stumps was part of ministry!?!?!
Home visits. Today portions of our team got to visit the homes of some of the special needs families that attend Tesoros. These families cannot make it to Tesoros on a daily basis so on these days the staff comes to them. Our team got to help assist in the home therapy and pray for these families.
Watercolor Painting. This afternoon our girls at House of Hope got to simply sit down and spend some quality time with the residents. We bought a few sets of water color paints and while the boys entertained the kiddos, our girls bonded over the simple idea of art. I loved the smiles and giggles of the group. For a moment, they were all simply girls (of all ages) having fun!
After our day of hard work, we passed on the hotel chow and treated the students to a night at the mall. They had to order their own food from the food court (that was funny!) and spent a little time shopping. I am continually impressed with how they represent our church!
Before I share our end of evening discussions I want to highlight the young men on our trip. Back home these guys are labeled by the sport they play, the activities they are involved in, or the school they attend. Many times this causes them to put on a certain “persona”…..this quite often progresses into manhood as most of us know! However the other leaders and I have been continually impressed with how they have let their guards down. They give piggy back rides until they are exhausted. They play soccer, duck duck goose, and color with kids. To the moms and dads of the young men on this trip…give them a big hug when they get home. You should be proud of them!
We ended our night by asking question #2.
I reminded them of our motto: “It’s not about me” and of the first question I asked them Monday night: “What breaks my heart?”
We then introduced question #2: Once I know what breaks my heart; What does love require of me?
We discussed that once God puts a cause on our heart, once our heart breaks, love requires us to act. When we do – it will cost us.
It will cost us money.
It will cost us time.
It will cost us convenience.
It will cost us our reputation.
Ultimately it will cost us some life….
The problem with this is that we are by nature life preservers. We don’t like giving these things up. However when we decide to move in the direction of what breaks our heart, we have to let go of the things we are trying to preserve.
What does love require of us? The answer, some of our life……
Keep your prayers coming! Tomorrow is our last day of service. We desire to honor God by finishing well!
Day One: July 11th / 8:45pm local time.
Today was our first day of service.
After a brief night’s sleep we were up and at it first thing this morning.
Our teams worked at all three sites. From helping special need families to serving women rescued from human trafficking, our students did amazing today.
Parents – your kids amaze me!! What excites me most about them is their attitude! As we mentioned yesterday, our theme for this week is “It’s not about me!” And our students are beginning to identify with it. We have no A/C, no warm water, limited food options, but our team smiles and continues to serve. Their hard work is inspiring!
This evening after dinner we reviewed our day. A few students shared what they have learned. A common theme was how love bridges every gap…even race, culture, and language.
After our stories we sang a few worship songs. I then informed our group that I was going to ask them 3 questions this week.
3 questions to help us reflect on our experience here.
3 questions to write down and ponder when we return to Katy.
3 questions to truly seek to find an answer to.
Tonight was the first question.
I simply asked our group, “What breaks your heart?”
We read from Nehemiah and discussed how he wept at learning about the conditions of Jerusalem. How his heart was broken and how he was determined to take action. We discussed how that throughout scripture devotion to God is measured in terms of devotion to others.
I reminded our students that people were constantly amazed at who Jesus spent time with and the people he chose to serve. You see in these people’s mind there was God and then there was an order, a hierarchy based upon ascribed value. However Jesus reminds us that we were all made in the image of God. There is no order, there is no first class or second class there are just people for whom He died.
Tomorrow our groups will rotate and head to a new site. There they will learn new things and serve new people. Pray for those we will serve. That they would see Jesus and His love by our actions.
I then I challenge you to ask yourself, when you look around this – world what breaks your heart?
Travel Day: July 10th / 10:45pm local time.
One international flight from Houston to Nicaragua.
9 adult leaders.
52 high school students.
The chance to get out of our comfort zone.
The chance to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus.
This week our group has adopted a simple motto: “It’s not about me.”
You see this is true for each of us. As long as I am all about me I can never be about something else. And honestly, if we are left to ourselves we only live for ourselves.
Isn’t it strange, I can fill my life up with stuff and yet I can remain empty – however when I empty myself out for others I become full….I find purpose…..because purpose is always found across the border of “what’s in it for me.”
House of Hope – is a vocational rehabilitation program for women and their children leaving the world of prostitution and human trafficking. They also host construction and medical mission teams and sell products made by survivors online. House of Hope started in Nicaragua and recently opened a second location in Honduras. We will be painting, cleaning, playing with children, leading arts and crafts, and serving the many families who call the House of Hope home. http://www.houseofhopenicaragua.com/
Tesoros de Dios – translated as “God’s Treasures,” it is a ministry in Managua, Nicaragua, that serves over 100 children with a variety of disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Hydrocephaly, Autism, Brain Damage, and others. Through programs offered and family support, the center provides tools to help the children reach their fullest potential physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We will be painting, making home visits, and completing miscellaneous projects. http://www.tesorosdedios.org/
Centro de Fe y Vida Nueva – is the largest Baptist school in the middle of town. We will be helping in classrooms (English, arts and crafts, etc.) in the mornings along with some home visits to elderly with their youth, outreach, and some painting/miscellaneous projects in the afternoon. We will also have the opportunity to worship there on Tuesday night.
We appreciate your prayers for our team….and more importantly for those we serve.
We also invite you to adopt our motto this week: “It’s not about me.”
Quite often during this time of year, we reflect on our Nation’s Founding Fathers and ponder their service and sacrifice….well maybe we used to. We might mention names like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Henry, Hamilton and many others in the American History Hall of Fame.
Have you ever wished you could ask them what they think of us now? Have you ever wondered what advice they would give us in our present circumstances?
What’s exciting, yet humbling, is that we have a glimpse of their advice to us. You see in the spring of 1777, almost a year after the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence and still over six years away from the Treaty of Paris that would end the Revolutionary War and recognize the sovereignty of our nation, John Adams penned a simple letter to his wife Abigail. In this letter, our future 2nd President sends us a message. Although short it is quite powerful. Here is his message to us.
Posterity! (That’s us – future generations that he can never imagine – future Americans!) You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.
Read it again, it’s worth it.
So what are we supposed to do with this Freedom? What does he mean by “make good use of it?” I believe we can do a few of things (among many) to make good use of this freedom.
I believe we can strive to do what’s just, not what we can simply justify.
I believe we can strive to do what’s responsible, not what’s permissible.
And lastly, I think as we examine ourselves and the actions of those we elect, we can remember that these individual rights we enjoy assume an individual accountability…..to our fellow man and to our God.
Happy Birthday America!
“For every man has a mission to perform in this world which his talents precisely fit him; and having found this mission, he must throw in to it all the energies of his being, seeking its accomplishment, not his own glory.”
Fourteen years ago today, on April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by gunfire while on patrol in a rugged area of eastern Afghanistan. The unfortunate death of this young man occurred in Southeastern Afghanistan in Operation Mountain Storm—a subset effort of the larger Operation Enduring Freedom designed to weaken al-Qaeda forces and the Taliban government. If you don’t know who Pat is let me quickly introduce you to this soldier.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was born the oldest of three brothers in San Jose, California. He played linebacker for Arizona State University, where during his senior year he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. In 1998, Tillman was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He became the team’s starting safety as well as one of its most popular players. In 2000, he broke the team record for tackles with 224. In May 2002, Tillman turned down a three-year, multi-million-dollar deal with the Cardinals and instead, prompted by the events of 9/11, joined the Army along with his brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player. The Tillman brothers were assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington, and did tours in Iraq in 2003, followed by Afghanistan the next year.
In today’s world of instant gratification and selfishness, it might not make sense for a man to leave a profession that pays him about $1.2 million a year for a new career that pays about $20,000 a year. However, it makes complete sense when you understand who Tillman was.
Here is a man that was defined by words like loyalty, honor, passion, courage, strength and nobility. He was a low-key guy. By the time Tillman enlisted in the Army in 2002, after four years in the NFL, he understood how the media worked. Still, he decided not to talk to any of them about his decision to enlist. When Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis asked Tillman how he was going to announce leaving the NFL for the service. Tillman’s reply was: “I’m not. You are.”
What is interesting with the Pat Tillman story is the two narratives that typically accompany it.
The first and probably the most popular theme presented assumes that fame and money is the highest mark of success and happiness; therefore we then refer to Pat’s detachment from it as the “ultimate sacrifice.”
The other narratives assumes Pat was naïve for trading the riches of a professional football career to chase Osama bin Laden.
Both are wrong….
I think the narrative that should follow Pat Tillman should simply communicate the story of a man following his calling…his purpose. The money, the fame, even the military service are all secondary to this point! As his former head coach said, “Pat Tillman represented all that was good in sports. He knew his purpose in life and proudly walked away from a career in football to follow his calling.”
To most of America, Tillman is symbol of patriotism.
To others, he is a hero for choosing service over wealth.
To me he is a man who followed his heart….and it led him from the football fields of Arizona to the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
Pat Tillman discovered his calling, his purpose, his mission and he was willing to risk and sacrifice everything for it. Do you pursue your calling with the same energy?
Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others
Okay, maybe you’re uncomfortable with the “L” word in a leadership context. So, what if we use the “C” word – Care….Or, the “A” word – Appreciate. Would that make you feel better?
I still choose the word love.
The greatest leaders I ever had in the Marine Corps loved me and I knew it. I knew that they would sacrifice themselves for me or the misson at hand. That type of love served as an unbreakable bond for some of the best units I ever served with.
I once read an article about Vince Lombardi, the iconic, hard-driving, tough football coach. The author had attempted to show a sneak peek of the person behind the coach, the person who was passionate about growing each team member in a highly intimate and personal way. On separate occasions, each of the former players surprised the writer with a very similar sentiment about Lombardi; “I have never been so loved by someone outside my family. We all knew he would do anything for us…anything. We would go through walls for this man.”
Coach Lombardi earned the right to drive his team to the limit, because his intense drive was balanced by his equally intense love for each man. He awakened in his players the respect, drive, and love he held within himself. When people know that a leader loves them great things are possible.
When I think of a leader’s love I am also reminded of Army Captain William Swenson. On September 8, 2009, Swenson was part of an operation to connect the Afghan government with native elders in the Ganjgal Valley in Eastern Kunar Province in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
According to the U.S. Army’s detailed Official Narrative, Swenson’s force was ambushed at about 6 a.m. by as many as 60 insurgent fighters who soon surrounded the column on three sides. Swenson called for air support and with two comrades crossed 50 meters of open space under direct enemy fire to administer life-extending first aid to his severely wounded sergeant.
When the column was surrounded by enemy fighters that advanced within 50 meters, Swenson responded to Taliban demands for surrender by throwing a hand grenade, an act of defiance that rallied his men to repel the enemy advance.
Swenson and his men moved his sergeant and the other wounded to a helicopter for medical evacuation before returning to the enemy’s “kill zone” for at least two more trips in an unarmored vehicle to evacuate additional wounded. After the 7 hour firefight had ended, 15 coalition soldiers were dead.
What most people don’t know, is that Swenson is considered the only living Medal of Honor Awardee to have a portion of his actions captured on camera. The event was captured by two different MedEvac crew members and shows each crew member’s perspective of events spanning the same time period. (You can see the video here but keep reading below first!)
What makes this video so special is not the dust, the bullets, or the chaos, but the actions of a leader. At about the 4:10 mark you can see Swenson lean over, look at his wounded soldier, and gently kiss his forehead. It would be the last time he ever saw Sergeant Westbrook…he died soon after the ambush.
The army’s official account makes no mention of the kiss Swenson gave one of his men. But that one act explains everything about true leaership…..
Lesson #2: Leaders Love Others