Gratitude

Gratitude. Simple idea. Highly underrated aspect of success.

I definitely believe that one of the common denominators of successful people, bridging different genres, in the belief in gratitude. (Another is thirst for learning/avid readers, but I’ll address that on a separate occasion).

Entitlement and expectations may be the greatest obstacle to success, and I firmly believe that gratitude is the antithesis to entitlement, and thankfulness naturally progresses to humility.

As such, I believe that gratitude equips. It fights against a self centered, narcissistic approach. It places emphasis on we. It acknowledges assistance. It directly confronts the often perpetuated myth of island achievement. It combats, with fervor, the isolationist perspective that man’s accomplishments are self made. It snaps back to reality any development of ego.

So, daily, I try to be thankful. It’s not always easy. I try to hand write two thank you notes a week. At the end of each basketball season, I try to hand write a thank you not to every single person who contributed in some way to our program. Last year, that number was in the hundreds. I don’t always complete that task. But when I do, I feel enriched, humbled, driven, and appreciative. I feel connected to the human experience.

Gratitude. A foundational value that creates a variety of positive habits, and is under expressed and utilized in our society.

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The Sweet Spot

I wanted to Coach. I wanted to impact young people the way others had impacted me. I wanted to feel some pressure. I wanted to be around the game I love with a depth very few can relate to. I wanted to feel younger than I am, because of the people I got to be around.

I quickly discovered that working in your desired profession is not the same as working in your desired profession in a place where you can find your values aligned.

I coached for several years as an assistant. Felt ready for a new challenge. I took a varsity head coaching job. I was ill prepared. I was doing what I always dreamed of, and I put a positive spin on it. I wasn’t yet confident enough, or equipped with the leadership skills necessary to make the place I had landed align to my values. And my teams suffered as a result. Still, I served. I learned. I grew. If nothing else, I came out tougher.

My next stop took me back to an assistant role. Not quite my dream job, but bigger conference. Brighter lights. Higher talent level. Lots of winning. But, still, winning came at the sacrifice of some values fundamental to my how I wanted to do it.

And then, the curveball. A trusted friend’s father pleaded with me. Look into this Immanuel place. See what it could be. Potential was the buzzword, which often is code for lacking in appeal at the moment.

I did, begrudgingly. I interviewed.  And left intrigued. Intrigue became desire. Desire became reality.

And I’m here. 4 years later. In the sweet spot. I couldn’t be happier. I wake up, and live my professional dream every day. My values are aligned. Blessed doesn’t begin to describe it. What I envisioned my program looking like over ten years ago when I started this journey, I have now. Coaches who are my closest friends. Young men who teach me things every day. Administrators who provide clear vision. A culture rooted in faith, integrity, and brotherhood, striving for excellence. The Sweet Spot.

Because of where I have been, I don’t take the sweet spot for granted. I always saw that this was possible. I always believed this kind of situation was where I was supposed to be. A place where values, integrity, positivity, character and enthusiasm could be aligned with success and competition at a high level.

I have a dear friend who has a theory he calls “perfect preparation”. It is his reappropriation of old theology, and I love it. He adamantly believes that our past experiences “perfectly prepare” us for the challenges we experience today. That every relationship, every practice, every loss, every timeout contributes to who we are now, and our gifts, talents, and abilities. He is wise. I feel prepared, and it’s because of every triumph. Even more so, it’s because of every failure.

One of my favorite minds in the basketball industry, Alan Stein, says “find what you love to do, and what you are good at, and if those two intersect, you have your life’s passion.”

I would contend Stein is on the money, but the secondary and equally important factor is fit. The larger institution must align with your own personal values. The culture you desire to create must be consistent with the larger ethos of the school. Otherwise, the disconnect will affect and deter the process.

Find your sweet spot. It took me 10 years to arrive at mine. But treasure the struggle you endured to get there. And remembering that struggle will insure that the place you are in now remains your sweet spot.

 

Things Fatherhood Taught Me About Coaching

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One of the best parts of the journey of fatherhood are the daily revelations and realizations about what it takes to lead a young one effectively. I’m not sure any of us are ready to be fathers, until is thrust upon us, and it is likely the most important process of learning by doing.

The following are a list of things I have learned from my son, or ideas/values I previously held that he has reinforced/reminded me of. Specifically, these are the ways that the best practices of fatherhood have influenced my coaching. I believe these ideas, as I reflect on them, equip me to better lead my team.

In times of adversity, I have to have unwavering belief in him.

Anyone who has a toddler will attest to the fact that when they fall, they will largely react based on the body language and facial expression that they see in their parent. When my son falls (which, having inherited my clumsiness, he does often) the amount of tears produced are directly proportional to my reaction. If I believe he can be tough, and can instill his belief that he can conquer his pain, he will do so. If I flinch, display fear or a lack of faith, he will follow suit.

A day of successful parenting can be completely undone  by a lapse in judgement and emotional outburst.

I can guide him all day. I can discipline accordingly, deescalate situations, talk him through his terrible two’s. I can do so, and 1 poor reaction when he frustrates me can undo all of the investment I have put in to that point. One moment of giving in to my emotions, one moment of frustration bubbling to the surface, of displaying a lack of self control, and all of the positive work of the day can be undone in seconds.

He craves structure, guidance, and yes, discipline.

The thing about being a toddler is that their is something intuitive within them that wants guidance. My son functions much better with a schedule and structure. We use timeouts in our home, and our son will actually now put himself on timeout, or request a timeout, when he starts to spiral out of control emotionally. I would contend it’s because he craves assistance in abiding by his internal moral compass, but needs some external assistance to achieve who he wants to be. Maybe that’s over thinking the instincts of a toddler, but I would contend we all desire to be people of great character, and that such a desire is instinctual, but require assistance from others. I see this at my son, even at his age, and I think it’s something we are born with.

If I am insincere, he sees right through me.

I can’t fake it. My son will know. If I am not genuinely invested when he wants to share an activity with me, he will see through it. He will get less enjoyment out of it. My son loves legos, and he loves basketball. When he desires for me to participate in an activity with me, he almost always chooses one of these two things. I believe he chooses these because I genuinely enjoy these activities. If I am not genuinely invested in the an activity when I play with him, he will know it.

He has to know I’ll catch him when he jumps.

My son loves jumping off of stuff. His bed, the couch, counters, the changing table. We count to 3, and he jumps fearlessly, with the knowledge I’ll catch him, and we will laugh and experience the joy of conquering fear together. He has to know I will catch him when he attempts something new. He has to know I’ll help keep him from painful failure, that I am there with waiting arms to keep him from harm, to support him in new endeavors, to encourage risk taking, to create an environment in which failure is not a bad result.

If I don’t invest love, devotion, and interest in him, I can’t ask anything of him.

My son is a human being. He’s not interested in being a robot. He’s not interested in me demanding production out of him. He’s interested in my love and care, in my investing into him, in my belief in him. When I choose to do these things, I can then ask him to be a young man who is respectful, selfless, compassionate, and caring. But until I invest those things in him, I can’t ask him to grow or mature. Until I model it, I can’t demand it. Until I show I love him precisely as he is, and care about all facets of his life, I can’t ask him to grow or mature. Otherwise, I have embraced a reductionist perspective of the human experience, a belief that his only worth is based on growth, when all he craves is the affirmation that he has value as he was created, and because of that affirmation, he is willing to grow. Without that affirmation and investment, I have unwittingly placed limits on the amount of growth that can occur.

Less of Me, More of We: Part 3

We found each other. That’s what teammates do. In a crowd of hundreds, maybe nearing a thousand, we found each other.

Our ball handling skills probably aren’t quite what they once were. Our defensive stances are more likely to end up in a pulled groin than a steal. We all carry the extra weight and expansive waistline that comes from being 12 years removed from the peak of our athletic prowess. We brought with us unique experiences, different journeys. A dentist. A financial planner. A professor. A teacher and coach.

But we found each other. Seemingly instantly and intuitively, we sought each other. Hugs. Pleasantries.

The occasion was troubling. We all would have traded the mini reunion for another minute with our beloved former assistant coach. To hear his deep voice encourage, teach, or even reprimand us, we would have given the world.

But that wasn’t for today. Our former head coach led the proceedings. He had bid goodbye to his friend of nearly 30 years, yet he displayed the leadership and composure that once let us to great heights. Heights of winning close games, a league championship, several playoff games. And like teenagers in a pre game talk, we leaned in. Eyes locked on our leader. Like a locker room, we swelled with emotion. But today was not for emotional anticipation, for adrenaline and determination, or the joy of athletic competition. Today was a day for farewells. For sweet memories, made sweeter by the bonds of teamwork, of once having shared a common objective, and have shared the journey of accomplishing that objective with laughter, with sweat, with conflict, with competition.

Our eyes swelled with tears recalling a life well lived. Endless stories of faith. Countless reminisced of his courage, his tender heart, his unending enthusiasm. His legacy. Tears and lumps in our throats swelled, mourning deeply a life of great impact. We laughed with great relief, the laughter temporarily relieving the overwhelming weight that comes with goodbyes like these.

But we found each other. 3 seniors. 1 junior. All of us thought when we won that league championship over ten years ago that we had made history, that our feat would change how people viewed our basketball program forever. What we didn’t realize is that the history had been made in our own lives, was not about recognition, or accomplishing something that we would be remembered for. Rather, our accomplishment was about what we would remember. Because, certainly, no one even now, other than those who partook in the journey, recall that WSL championship.

And we found each other. We shared stories. We laughed. We hugged. Former teammates. Friends, forever intrinsically linked by shared values, by chest passes and squats, by suicides and defensive slides, by sweat and laughter and having successfully navigated the horrors and joys of high school together. Forever joined by men who guided us, challenged us, prodded, us, pleaded with us, raised their voices with us, equipped us. Because teammates on championship teams, we had been told, by the very man we were there to remember and celebrate, think of others in times of need. Because when life hinders you, when the need is greatest, when it’s the most challenging, is when you need each other most. So we found each other. Depth of conversation wasn’t necessary. Stories were. Smiles and handshakes. Introductions to significant others. We found each other. Made sure of each other’s well being. Made sure we all knew that he who we were there to celebrate had affected us each in a deep, profound way.

We sat in the very gym that we thought had made us heroes. The gym once filled by that voice, in the darkness of 6 AM practices, and the bright lights of Friday night games. And, I can’t help but believe, this experience and celebration would have brought more joy to Coach Gilmore than any number of championships we won. Knowing teammates he guided would find each other, care for each other, in the sort of way that doesn’t have to be expressed in words. Knowing we would have all testified to the impact he had on us individually. Knowing he had mattered, in the hearts and minds of his players and students. Knowing we would leave that gym with a renewed commitment to the kind of life he both instructed and modeled on a daily basis.

So we found each other. And we departed. Each on our own path. Each carrying with us the shared experience that played a large role in the kinds of professionals, husbands, and fathers we are today. Each carrying with us a piece of him, and praying we could exude the enthusiasm, courage, tenacity, joy, service, discipline, and faith that he exhibited every day. Praying we can do our part to continue the profound effect he had on the world. Praying that when our turn inevitably came, that we would be remembered with similar fondness and gratitude. Praying that the oft repeated cliche, which we heard endlessly, would be paid tribute with our own lives.

Less of me. More of we.

Part 1

Part 2

 

Part Two: Less of Me, More of We

The news came, appropriately delivered by a beloved former teammate, fellow understudy turned coworker. A fellow young man, probably similarly adrift as a juvenile, yet inspired, invigorated, and heavily influenced by coaches and teachers who cared enough to transcend titles. So great was their influence, that we now share the same mission that once so radically impacted the teenage versions of ourselves.

If you missed my last post on Coach Gilmore, see here. My former teacher, coach, coworker, mentor, and friend succumbed to cancer this morning. I wrote a a substantial amount on Coach Gilmore’s influence on me and countless others, but his legacy more than merits revisiting. Certainly, I can’t even do it justice in regards to my own life, let alone the numerous others similarly impacted.

Without hesitance, I can say a Christian High School quite effectively changed my life. Gifted, servant-hearted, talented mentors gave their whole lives to me and my classmates. Chris Schultz, Scott Falk, and Coach Gilmore opened their hearts, their homes, and their lives, living in inspiring authenticity on a daily basis, choosing to love moody, immature, entitled, sometimes defiant teenagers. We didn’t deserve their love. We didn’t deserve their extra time. We certainly didn’t deserve for them to give their whole lives to us.

It was in this place the seed of calling, which would blossom into my profession, originated.  I was profoundly affected by men who took lesser pay, sacrificed beloved time with their family, bought us meals, and chose to give of their whole selves in order to see us changed for the better.

Later, I was lucky enough to serve alongside all 3 of these men, to call them coworkers, mentors. We shared staff meetings, chapels, practices, school athletic events, car rides, and a shared mission. They showed me the side of leadership and service unknown to the often unappreciative teenagers we served, with unfailing commitment and sacrifice. I learned patience and grace, even when students didn’t deserve it. I learned more than could ever be formulated, articulated, written or expressed. I learned the other side of the depth of their commitment to us, that it meant sacrificing so much of what this world holds dear, but that the fulfillment, joy, and purpose found in that sacrifice makes it an abundant journey.

And the appropriateness of Coach Gilmore’s favorite phrase, “Less of me, more of we” rings triumphantly, first in his rhetoric, but more persuasively in a life well lived. A life of giving beyond ordinary measures, of inspiration which knew few boundaries, of legacy which has only begun. A life of complete service, at the expense of self. A life defined by self discipline, and the pursuit of an end goal without compromise. A life transcending borders, be they governmental, cultural, or educational. A life of complete and total commitment to seeing others pointed to a larger meaning. A life centered on the idea of health for the whole individual, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. A life of endless positivity, contagious energy. A life of exuberance, testified to by thousands of former students, coworkers, athletes, and friends. A life of impact which definitely echoes beyond measure. A life well lived, and assuredly concluded with the incomparably sweet, perfectly apt, comforting words,”Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“Less of Me, More of We Part 1.”

 

 

Belief

I have fervently believed, since my youth, that I could be what I wanted. It sound dangerously arrogant, but my Father instilled an incredible self-belief in me, as well as my siblings. He never wavered in his steadfast belief in us. And he never hesitated to loudly proclaim said belief. Now that I am a father, I pray (and practice) for that same quality.

I remember my Dad making definitive statements of how big an area I was the best basketball player in. “You definitely are the best within a square mile”. I’d shrug, and smirk, unsure of how to respond, flattered, embarrassed, acutely aware I should try to balance his confidence with humility. The square area would grow measurably, and my Dad’s belief and optimism certainly outpaced reality. A mile, which was the starting point, was plenty generous.The best on our street might have been a stretch. But my Dad genuinely believed. He spoke with confidence. His face and body language affirmed his words. The words were meaningful. The conviction with which he spoke had an even greater impact.

Something powerful occurs when others believe in us. The affect of belief usually goes unidentified. But at it’s core, belief defines those who are successful, and those who fail. Without belief, no endeavor succeeds.

My son is 20 months old. He’s at that delightful age filled with joyous interaction. He is permanently sweating, with endless roughhousing, tickling, and constantly on the move, talking incessantly. He runs everywhere, and I can’t remember the last time he sat absolutely still.

Unfortunately for my son (Landry), he inherited my clumsiness. So this little ball of energy that bounces from activity to activity falls… frequently. He’s past the point of fear when he falls. He’s past the point where every fall hurts. Instead, when takes a tumble, he locks eyes with me. He stares, and examines every facial expression, every lifted eyebrow, every grimace. He absorbs every sound I utter. And based upon all of this information, he reacts. If I flinch when his palms slap the tile that runs through our home, or if I raise an eyebrow when his forehead makes the awful clunking sound against said tile, hysterics follow. Tears. The need to be held and comforted.

But something funny happens if I manage to look confident. If I can resist my paternal nature, if I can restrain my instinctual response, and coerce positivity when his knees scrape audibly against the concrete, he will follow suit. If I belief he is alright, he is. If I believe he is hurt in that moment, he is hurt in that moment. If I can remain at ease, he will grunt, and be back in fifth gear instantly, on to the next activity.

Belief. Clearly, our intrinsic belief defines much of our reality. But, sometimes, the belief of another trumps our own belief. Sometimes, the belief on another trump whatever doubt or insecurity the world has thrust upon us. Sometimes, the belief of another is able to somehow drown out the voices of past failures that fill us with doubt, insecurity, and fear.

Tomorrow, 120+ students will begin passing through my classroom on a daily basis. Another 35+ will participate in our basketball program. I hope belief, as simple and foundational as it seems, exudes as a core value.

I pray that these students feel believed in. When they take their own symbolic fall, be it in the form of content matter that stretches them, a challenging test, the endless social politics that accost them, or an adverse situation on the court, I hope they see reassurance from me. I hope they feel affirmed. I hope they know…. I believe.

 

 

Less of me, more of we

We ran. And ran. In the filthy heat of late August, through the slightly cooler September, and the thankfully cooler October. We ran. The kind of running that leads you to think your lungs are going to explode, accompanied by the kind of sweat that continues pouring from your body for seemingly the rest of the day, regardless of how long you laid under the air conditioning vent or how cold a shower you take. The stink of sweaty grass seemed to occupy my nostrils permanently through these months.

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It was basketball conditioning, but we never touched a ball in these months. We were a run and jump team, pressing and trapping the majority of the time we played, and it was understood we had to be well conditioned. But criminy, that heat. We would start with some sort of excruciating ab workout on the field, (hence, the stench of grass). Plyos followed, and we were asked to contort our bodies in ways that were awkward, and challenging, the opposite of graceful. Yet we complied willingly, trusting the process wholeheartedly. Then, we would run. Jogs. Sprints. Timed runs. Change of directions. Intervals. Relays. More jogs, more sprints. Countless cones.

I played for a throwback coach, old school enough that he coached football in the fall, so we worked under our varsity assistant coach, who also happened to be the track coach (Coaches coaching multiple sports always reminds me of Wooden’s early days, for some reason, when he coached HS football, baseball and basketball, a far cry from the high level of specialization found today).

He had trained for the Olympics. Legend held he missed qualifying by six inches. He was mid to late 20’s, tall, and it was obvious to all he was an ex-athlete, which lent itself to immediate credibility. He was tan, always clad in the sort of sunglasses only baseball players and runners wear. And, always, his head was covered in a large brimmed staw hat, complete with drawstring that ran underneath his chin, the sort of hat whose industry must be entirely financed by track coaches and aspiring track coaches.

His name was Coach Gilmore, and we loved him. He had an infectious energy and zest for life, such that most teenagers (including myself) didn’t know how to deal with him at first. His voice was deep, and booming was an understatement. It echoed across gymnasiums and fields, his words seeming to hang longer than they should. In the chaos of a basketball game, in a packed gym, you never failed to hear Coach Gilmore’s instructions, which usually were repeating something our Head Coach had said, simply at a higher volume and seemingly more reverberation, always with more enthusiasm.

Gilmore saved our lives. Literally, he saved our lives. We were a small, Christian school, competing against all small, rural high schools. We came from a different demographic, and we weren’t exactly sensitive. It didn’t help that we were pretty good, and we knew it. We played with an edge, and swagger that bordered on punkishness. We had stuff thrown at our bus and the windows broken out multiple times. At one such game, with seemingly the whole town in attendance, we got our butts handed to us. We got smacked. Nothing went in the hoop, and the other team’s point guard, all 5’3 of him, couldn’t miss. The whole town cheered, chanted and mocked. We lost our composure, with time winding down, and one of our guys took a cheap shot at their PG, a full two handed shove that sent him sprawling. And pandemonium erupted. The crowd was on the floor. Both benches stood. And Curtis, the guy who took the cheap shot, was ready to fight the entire town. As our lives flashed before our eyes, Coach Gilmore flashed his former near-olympian self. He horse collared Curtis, and literally carried him the 100+ feet to the locker room (more impressive, given that Curtis was 6’6 and 250 pounds). And the town, formerly hungry for blood, was appeased (or amazed by Coach Gilmore’s speed) long enough for the game to end, and us to hunker down behind the locked doors of the locker room. If not for  Coach Gilmore, I am convinced Curtis would have punched someone that night, and all of us would have fallen victim, dying in some awful rural town at the hands of a violent mob.

We played in a tournament in Boonville. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The town was so small we stayed in a forest fire station, because the hotel rooms were sold out for the tournament we played in. We got ice cream one night, and the ice cream was named “Oh, fudge.” Coach Gilmore found this humorous. Whenever someone made a mistake the rest of the trip, Gilmore called out “Oh, FUUUUUUDDGE” in loud, booming voice, followed by a contagious cackle. We were playing a game that week, and someone turned the ball over, and the cry of “Oh, FUUUUUDGE” echoed from the bench, in a way that seemed to bounce off every corner of the gym. In the seriousness and competition of athletic play, I am not sure I have ever laughed so hard.

We would encircle Coach Gilmore before getting in the vans on trips. He would stand with his feet planted, and we would try and run and punch him, 1 at a time, and he would move just his arms, with punches that landed before we ever had a chance to make contact. How this game originated I have no idea, but we played it regularly, and with the kind of joy, laughter, and revelry only teammates can share.

Coach Gilmore would randomly bust out the Robot. And he could dance, which always shocked us, since he seemed like the kind of guy who probably trained on Friday nights instead of ever dancing, but he had moves we all legitimately envied.

But he made us run. And run. And run. And during those times, it was a good thing Gilmore had loved us. If not, there is no way any of us would have endured the torturous heat, terrible air, and joylessness of endless sprints. We considered mutiny, but no one could muster any genuine ill will. He was too good of a person.

It was in these early relationships, with Coaches like Gilmore, that a seed was planted within me. I knew I wanted to Coach. And people like Gilmore were why. I wanted to experience the joy of sport beyond what my playing ability would take me. I wanted to model service. I wanted to feel the bonds of brotherhood of which I have not found outside of sport. I wanted to encourage, to push, to motivate, to matter in the hearts and minds of young people.

And so we would run. And run. And Gilmore would yell encouragement, in that big baritone voice, his volume effortlessly covering 100’s of yards. One of his favorite phrases he would call out was “Less of me, more of we”. He saved this for impactful moments, chanting it like a monk, over and over again. “Less of me, more of we”. Someone would slow on a sprint, and the words would ring out. We would breathe harder, legs aching, chest tight, covered in sweat. “Less of me, more of we”.

I am confident everyone of my teammates would recall this as Coach Gilmore’s favorite saying. And they would laugh and smile, and share another story of how Coach Gilmore made them laugh, and mentored, or taught something impactful, or modeled character.

In his favorite saying, Coach Gilmore caught the essence of sport. “Less of me, more of we” defines successful teams. It gives meaning to athletics, the type of lesson that sits, simmers, and emerges years after being absorbed. It also, in many ways, is a defining quality of life, and those who get the most of the human experience, and live the life they were created for, embody “less of me, more of we”. In his favorite phrase, Coach Gilmore chose six words that very much defined what it means to live correctly.

Coach Gilmore now stands in the battle of his life. Diagnosed with cancer several months ago, he fights an uphill battle, far more challenging than any amount of sprints. And his lessons echo on. Countless former students and athletes attest to his character. Many more can share an anecdote of the meaning of his relationship with them. Many pray without him knowing it. For me, as a coach, I can say definitively that Coach Gilmore heavily influenced my decision to lead young people in an athletic endeavor, much because I wanted to be like him. He, and others inspired what we would be my life’s passion. There are many more like me.

Less of me, more of we.

 

 

2014 Immanuel Junior High Commencement Address

The text that follows was my commencement address for the 8th grade class of 2014. You can see the actual address here.

I have an 18 month old son. And I have made a dramatic realization: as a parent: the idea of personal possessions is now dead. Nothing is mine, any longer This morning, I drove my son to daycare, which is a 15 to 20 minute drive. And as has been the case for the last 4-5 months, my son sat in the backseat, calling out names of songs he wanted played off of his children’s music CD. “ABC’s” he pleaded, and I reminded him kindly to say please. “ABC’s PLEEEEEASE” he calls out, joy lighting up his face when the familiar tune begins. “BUS” he squeals, then “BUS PLEEEEASE” after another gentle reminder regarding manners. He sits in his carseat like a Parisian King, waving his hands and calling out musical instructions, and I gladly oblige, and the refrains of Wheels on the Bus blare loudly out of the speakers. If that’s not enough, he then asks “Watch me, Da Da”, wanting me to observe him spin the wheels of the bus round and round, round and round, round and round…. and tell new passengers on the bus to “move on back”, complete with emphatic finger wave. “Happy” he cries, and pleads with Da Da to sing, clap, stomp, and shout Amen (which somehow turns into Oh No) along with “If you’re Happy and you Know it”. I happily, and usually sleepily, participate, because this is fatherhood.

These car rides give me great joy. His youthful enthusiasm, his precious little voice attempting to sing in falsetto, his desire to participate with me, all bring tremendous joy, and swell my heart with an indescribable love. But, this morning, with the knowledge I was speaking tonight, this moment also came with a new realization: as parents, we give everything for our children. Even if it means the humiliation of stares as we vigorously sing “I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee” while being the objects of great confusion from other drivers. We not only surrender our car radio from the time our children our toddlers until their late teens, we participate in their terrible taste in music. So, 8th graders, some one gave up their car radio to put you on this stage. Somebody paid your tuition twice, once in the form of taxes, and once again to insure you received the BEST education imaginable, one centered in biblical values, with classmates who shared those values, with teachers who would care about your development as a whole person, with an aggressive academic approach designed to give you a competitive advantage in a world where a competitive edge is essential. Someone sacrificed their owns wants and desires to give you an opportunity to challenged to grow as a whole person, to be held accountable, to be stretched not only academically, but spiritually. The person who made that sacrifice, be it parent or grandparent, is probably here tonight, and before I address you, I think it’s more than appropriate that we acknowledge the person who sacrificed their car radio so that you could experience this moment, which is a culmination of many effort and lifelong memories made over the last two year. Find that person who sacrificed for you in the crowd, lock eyes with them, and give them a round of applause.

8th grade class of 2014, high school graduating class of 2018, we have shared a great deal the last two years. We shared the terror of transitioning from elementary to middle school, with awkward laughter turning eventually to the comfortable laughter only rooted in shared experience. We tackled the monumental task of the constitution test, conquering it through collective effort. We incessantly quoted and sometime sang songs from the Broadway musical Newsies. You tolerated endless stories and photos of my son, and even feigned genuine interest. We stood in the hall of the US capitol, recited the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. We watched athletic teams succeed, bringing home championships in multiple sports. We addressed the foundations of our country, it’s roots, struggles, and triumphs. We laughed along the bizarre jokes of Bob and Corbin. We shared contentious debates over the superiority of the Dodgers or the Giants. We observed an amazing 6 of you somehow complete US History with a final grade above 100%. We played an eternal cat and mouse game of “how old is that Haydock guy”, with guesses ranging from 19 to 42, and formulaic solutions that would rival any geometric proof. We sat in chapel, challenged by the likes of Pastor Wilson, inspired to grow in our faith, to not settle for less than what God calls us to be. We endured the drudgeries of Algebra and Mr. Franco, and I convinced you that Mr. Franco and I had an epic rivalry, when in reality he is one of my closest friends on this campus. You tolerated the quirky (that’s a nice way of saying weird) humor of Junior High teachers, most notable myself and Mr. March.

In all of those shared experiences, I come back to the defining qualities of your collective class. I have been working with youth of your age for ten years now, and one of the most fascinating parts of teaching is how each group is defined by several distinct qualities. And I come back to my son in the car.

The enthusiasm, the youthful exuberance, the desire to share joy that my son exudes in these moments singing familiar children’s song all remind me of your class. There is beauty in your zest for your life, and this, in my opinion defines this class. You have not been touched yet by the bitterness, the ugliness, the cynicism and joylessness that too often the world places upon us. Instead you have clung clearly to the promises of God, and your passion for life runs strongly, bringing a close knit group of young people, pursuing joy, patience, love, kindness and respect which is evident to all.

And so, let us be reminded of Hebrews 12:1. The race of High School rests in your immediate future. And High School will test these qualities. It will require youthful perseverance to not be made bitter, cynical, negative. Peer pressure will increase. Media messages about what it means to be a teenage boy or girl will only continue to grow louder, attempting to convince you to fit a mold that is only destructive. The allure of settling for a life less than what you are capable will only grow more magnetic, the virus of mediocrity will attempt to derail you from accomplishing the goals you are fully capable of attaining. The disease of self will attempt to pollute the relationships, the camaraderie, the joy that you have experienced together. Failure will come. And failure will attempt to convince you that you are defined by your failure, and that a singular failure means that you are a failure. When in reality, failure, be it academic, social, athletic, or spiritual, merely equips us to be successful, merely creates in us a stirring, a lesson, a drive, an ambition, and failure can actually be our most valuable asset. Adversity will strike, attempting to shake the foundation of faith constructed, tempting you to challenge, question, depart, daring you to dwell on and blame God for the negative which manifests itself, rather than embracing the many blessings you receive on a daily basis.

All of these things will attempt to hinder you. They will attempt to dissuade you from positivity, from accountability, from achievement, and, most importantly, they will attempt to rid you of your youthful joy. For all of these things, while certainly detracting from God’s ultimate purpose for you, also will lead to personal distress, suffering, and an experience that is LESS than what you were created for. So, I plead with you, let us throw off everything that hinders, the sin that so easily entangles, all of these things, and run the race of high school with perseverance, a perseverance that rejects the false ideologies presented to you on a daily basis. Meet the social, academic, athletic, artistic, and spiritual challenges that lie ahead with joy, with exuberance, with perseverance, and with the knowledge that you are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. Do not be steered off the course of the race that is marked out for you.