Thursday, August 22, 2013


My gut told me that the gentleman who interrupted my walk to the car was going to be trouble. It's hard to tell how old he was. He looked worn from what I presumed to be a difficult life. A couple of teeth were MIA from his mouth. He wore baggy black sweat pants with the legs raggedly cut off about six inches above his holey tennis shoes. A much-too-big Liberty University red t-shirt topped the pants while one of those flimsy sackpacks draped across his back. It was hardly the image of a successful entrepreneur.

"Hey," he called to me. "Can I talk to ya for a minute? I gotta ax you sumpin."

Oh, boy. I started getting very uncomfortable but turned to watch him weave through the cars to come closer.

"My car be stuck in dat park'n lot down der. Can you gimme a couple dollas so I can take da bus back home. Ya, know, off Timberlake Road."

"Your car is stuck?"

"Yeh. Down der. Da alternator, it be bad."

"How much do you need?" I heard myself say, though I sincerely doubted that any car of his was "down der."

"Three or four dollas."

I hated the position I was in. Should I ask to see his keys? Should I call his bluff and ask to see the whole car? Should I offer to take him home? Scratch that third idea. He was a little too creepy for that. But still. Here I am standing in the parking lot of a Christian school, outside of a church, and contiguous with the largest Christian university. Would Jesus hand him some bucks or kindly suggest he get a job. Major ethical dilemma. But could I really say no? Though it was a long shot, what if he was telling the truth?

"OK. Here's four dollars. Make sure you get yourself home." I seldom carry cash but I was hoping he didn't notice the other bills that happened to be in my wallet after selling some books.

He thanked me but as I turned back to my car, I heard him approach another man sitting in a nearby car. Wouldn't you know it?!?! He started spinning the same tale. I turned, took several steps toward him and asked, "Hey, are you asking for more money?"

"You didn't give me 'nough. You gave me three and I need foe," he offered with a side of indigence.

"No, I gave you four. Count it." Sure enough, he held my four crisp bills in my hand. With that, he turned from his newest mark and I continued to my car. I'm sure the guy in his car was grateful for my interruption.

Having to run into a store across the street, I made the short drive and noticed the dirty, ragged man standing on the curb counting his money. And not just my money. In his hand was a stack of bills. Yep. I was suckered. I pulled beside him, rolled down the window and said, "Wow. You sure have a lot of money. How many people have you asked for money? And I thought you said you were getting on the bus."

The money was thrust into his pocket while he told me he really was waiting for the bus. "It comes by right here." I noted the absence of a bus stop sign. There was little I could do although admittedly, I wanted to ask for a refund. Nevertheless, I went on my way and by the time I came out of the store, he was being questioned by a policeman. Good. Maybe they'll put an end to his shenanigans; stop his lollygagging ways.

I was a little miffed at being taken. Still, a part of me felt sorry for him. Was there a mother somewhere who worried about her son's ability to make a way for himself? Was my money going to buy him a meal for the first time is a week? What if that was my kid, albeit grown? Would I be grateful for the kindness of a stranger? I was still mulling about these things when I came out of another store. Guess what? There he was, this time standing directly under the bus stop sign. I had to smile. I suppose he was taking the bus afterall, probably smiling and singing "Wee, wee, wee all the way home" (just like "this little piggy"), pockets full of a day's worth of money he wrangled out of people like me.

It was only four dollars. Yes, I'm pretty certain there was no car. And yes, I bet this is how he makes his living. Was he deceitful? Probably. But does that disqualify him from receiving a little mercy, a portion of grace? I concluded he was worth the risk.

"God," I prayed, "Take those four dollars and bless that man. Multiple it and let him see your hand. Help me see through the dirt and ugliness. Let me see a man who needs to be loved. And God, if you could, give me discernment. I want to be your hands and feet but I don't like being ripped off. Still, teach me. Was this a test? Is this what you were talking about through Matthew?"

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46).

Okay. I get it. I think I'd rather be suckered than not see Jesus.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Robertsons: Anything but quacks

I don't have cable TV. We live out in the country where there is no service. I don't have satellite either. Too expensive. Too slow. But I surely do not live in a social vacuum. I know the Robertson family is the cast of A&E's smash hit, Duck Dynasty. I also know they are an international sensation.
The family's business of making duck hunting calls reaches back to the early 1970's. But from carving those calls out of Louisiana cedar, the company has come a long way. Now, they own the market with not only their calls but their brand.

So, what's their brand? Well, it has something to do with faith, family, and down-home, honest living. There are no pretenses. What you see is what you get. Long beards, unfamiliar names like Si, Jase, and Jep, loyal wives, lots of fun, and plenty of country cooking. It's nice to think that the bazillions of Duck followers really believe this family is for real. No quacks here. It's a reality show, right?

But are they? Pedestals and pressure cookers have a way of bringing out the bad. Boom! Just like that, the famous fall from grace. Consider all the Hollywood types gone a muck. It's hard to hide the real you when push comes to shove.
It was reported last week that Jase, one of the big-bearded brothers, was escorted out of a swank New York City hotel, the Trump International Hotel. Jase described the incident on LIVE with Kelly and Michael. Apparently, the hotel employee, when asked where the men's room was located, mistook Jase for a homeless man saying, "‘Right this way, sir'" before escorting him to out the door, pointing down the street and quipping, "‘Good luck. Have a good day.’”

Now, Jase is a famous person. Jase has tons of money. Jase is highly recognizable. But did Jase take offense? Did he make a scene and demand the employee's head be handed to him on a silver platter?  Did he pack his bags and storm out, the whole contingent traipsing behind?

No. He simply walked back in, told his wife why he disappeared, and went on to laugh about the incident as "facial profiling." He even credited his escort as being "very nice,” He certainly did not take himself too seriously. Incidentally, he continued to stay at the hotel.

In comparison with those who act badly, I'd like to think that Jase, along with the rest of the family, live the way they do because of their faith. For, you see, there is a direct relationship between faith and works, between what's in the heart and what comes out the mouth.

An ancient Proverb says "The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent" (Proverbs 16:23). But a writer a millennium later wrote likewise: "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of" (Luke 6:45).

Good for Jase. Good for the whole clan. Their dinner time prayers are not a charade. Virtues and values are on display. There is no disparity. They live what they believe. And to be honest, they have it right. Living your faith is way more effective than screaming it.

Identify the caterpillars

Isn't it funny, perhaps even odd, where we find inspiration? I found it earlier tonight on Twitter, which in turn caused the gears in my head to spin at mach one speeds. Hence, I sit at my desk as others in my house peacefully (I presume) slumber, desperately trying to control the thoughts
wildly whizzing through the axons and dendrites in my brain.

It all began while I was doing my due diligence in connecting with coaches who might be interested in my latest book ("Best Season Yet: 12 Weeks to Train"). I read through endless bylines of fellow Twitterers and Twitterettes. And then I saw it. The words stopped me dead in my tracks. I'm not talking still sauntering, floundering, or even wiggling on the ground. I mean motionless. Dead. Done for. Slapped-up-side-of-the-head stunned. A football coach from Mesquite, TX, Daniel Penrod, had tweeted these words.

"Identify the caterpillars. Most have no idea they'll one day fly. Tell them, help them, guide them."

In that moment I knew I found the answer to a question posed to me so often these days. "Why do you teach? Why do your coach? Why did you leave your medical profession?" Though difficult to answer in the past, I now know. It's to become an entomologist. It's to identify all those crazy caterpillars.

Caterpillars are interesting little creatures. They are the larval form of butterflies and moths. Some are decked out in an array of colors. Some are hairy and bristly while others are smooth as their silk cocoons. Sometimes they can inch along an extended finger, tickling the touch receptors in our skin. But some caterpillars, harmless as they look, inject a stinging poison that surprises the unsuspecting.

For the few weeks that caterpillars are, well, caterpillars, they eat ferociously, able to chomp their way through entire fields of crops. The estimated 20,000 known varieties are often considered agricultural pests, doing more harm than good. But their period of robust activity and youthful destruction is short-lived. Soon they spin a silky cocoon to hang harmlessly from a branch during the pupal stage of life. To the bystander, it doesn't look like much is going on for one cannot see through the trappings and into the heart of the matter. To the outsider, the dormancy can be as frustrating as trying trying to bail out a sinking ship with a thimble.

A few weeks pass. Still nothing. Still nothing, that is, until one day when the cocoon opens to reveal a winged creature, the only insect with scaled wings. Not until the butterfly's body temperature rises to eighty-six degrees can it take flight. Some can fly to up to thirty miles per hour while others resemble slow moving targets at a blimp-like speed of five per hour. Varieties abound. Some sport colorful, beautiful wings, resembling a work of art and gaining quick attention. But some are not so bright, drab, even. These motley moths blend into their surroundings, hoping, at best, to avoid ravenous predators. I doubt, however, that neither the bold and beautiful nor the drab, not fab types ever thought they would fly high in the sky!

Can you see where I'm going with this? My students and athletes are like caterpillars. There are too many varieties to count. Each has his own story, her own background. Some are easy to admire but the poisonous ones make them hard to embrace. Still, we labor on and watch them enter a mysterious period, never quite sure about how (or when) they will emerge from waiting. As adults, we know the general outcome but sometimes forget to remind them of their own futures. If we did a better job telling them they're destined to fly, perhaps they would be less likely to be eaten up in the process.

"Do you love teaching and coaching?" I am often asked. Sometimes yes but no, not all the time. I don't always love those precious little caterpillars who can be demanding, annoying, and content in their mediocrity.  But do I love mile eight-four of a one-hundred mile race? No. Do I still race? Yes. Do I love toiling in my garden in anticipation of a bumper crop? Not when the sun is scorching. But do I still plant? Sure. Do I love the long hours of lesson preparation and planning? Nope. Not often. But do I still pour over the material? Absolutely. Did I love the pain of childbirth as I delivered a long-awaited child? Seriously? You're joking, right? Yeah. I even did that twice. But here's the thing. Not loving those difficult moments (maybe even hating them) is a fleeting emotion when the final outcome is considered. Just because a warm and happy glow is allusive does not mean the process is not to be embraced, not to be loved.

I want to see my caterpillars take off and fly, soaring high and far. I want them to understand the process. I want to remind them of their futures. I want them to see a bright hope. I want them to understand this:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

Go ahead, inch along, all you caterpillars, for one day you will surely fly.

This is why I teach. This is why I coach.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

LCA XC goes into the wild

What was I thinking?

It began as a simple idea: take a bunch of teenagers camping and running in the mountains. But most things that seem simple are about as easy as getting a put-it-together-yourself floor lamp back into the complex maze of cardboard and Styrofoam. Something normally gets broken or left out, neither of which would be a good thing as far as this little adventure goes. It would be extremely bad form to lose, break, or render useless any member of the team.

But the kids (defined heretofore as the Liberty Christian Academy cross country team) showed enough interest that left me with no recourse but to plan, prepare, and pray for the best. So it was set. August 5 and 6. When it was all said and done, nineteen kids signed on the dotted line. A few of my  runners didn't take the bait; didn't drink the Kool-Aid of how fun it would be to run about seventeen miles and summit three mountain tops all in a matter of one afternoon, evening, and then next morning. Their loss.

I figured I would be the only running adult. But who could I con into driving, sleeping on the ground, and cooking over ground-hugging grates? Hum. This might be tough. But sure enough, three dads stepped up and grabbed the golden ring. My young and currently injured assistant coach also made the trip as well as a twenty-something cousin of one of the girls. So, okay. I think I had the adult to kid ratio at an acceptable level.

"Coach," someone asked, "Are we going to do any team building activities."

I smiled before replying, "Yep. Go ahead and set up your tent." I was right. It was team-biuilding as well as highly entertaining.

With a show of hands, most of the kids had never run seventeen miles in a short period of time, even if divided into three different runs. And yet, they excitedly followed me across the parking lot and into the woods for the first assault on Harkening Hill and a slight detour to old Johnson's farm. We laughed, climbed huge rocks, and took breaks in the guise of photo ops along the way. The run was fun and relatively easy running for the back half of the miles. Hence, by the time we got to camp and were met with the smell of charcoal-cooked hamburgers, everyone had miles of smiles plastered on their face. Mountain #1. Check.

In the interlude between runs and after bellies had been satisfied, Dr. David Horton challenged the group with stories of record-setting runs, suffering and satisfaction, and the challenge of doing more than you think you can. As normal, the more he talked, the more the kids realized they were in the presence of someone very special.
Though all good things must come to an end, something else must follow. And what followed was a twilight hike to Buzzards Roost and Sharp Top Mountain. The sun set as we watched it's descent before running down the long and twisting road, a safer return trip than the rugged trail we climbed. Though hesitant at first, the group turned off their headlights, allowing their eyes to adjust to the darkness. They were amazed at how easy it was to define the road's surface. What the girls soon discovered, however, was their vision was not acute enough to pick up the guys hiding in the shadows. Time after time, screams rose into the night air as the girls startled at the bodies jumping out at them. Despite that, no one suffered a heart attack and all arrived back at camp, pleased with their nighttime run. Mountain # 2. Check.

I discovered that kids like to talk, cackle and squak- a lot - whether it be around the campfire or tucked inside their tents! From all the noisy bus rides, I should have expected as much. It was a fine line to walk between acting like a wicked witch and a permissive do-anything-you want mama. I certainly didn't want to have the park ranger come calling to chastise us. But never fear. They finally ran out of energy and drifted off to sleep, dreaming, I'm quite sure, of the adventures that awaited them come morning.

Well, maybe not, if their demeanor upon waking was any indication. As a group, they don't seem to be morning people. It took some effort to rouse the campers, especially the girls. But one by one, they staggered to the food table, tentatively chewed on Pop-Tarts, bananas and peanut butter. "We're leaving in 15." Nothing. No movement.

"We're leaving in 10." More dilly-dallying.

"We're leaving in 5." They hardly looked up.

"We're leaving now. Shoes on!" Shoes afoot, the group took off for the 2.7 miles up the Blue Ridge Parkway, made the equally long climb to the summit, enjoyed more rocks (yes, a common theme for the trip), before descending a technical, rocky trail. It was a long morning, legs were getting weary, and most realized they needed calories. Nevertheless, all made it back to camp in one piece, proud of their accomplishments.

Thanks, LCA runners (and parents) for trusting me. Thank you for loving adventure. Thank you for believing in doing more than you thought possible. Thank you for treating each other with love and respect. Thank you for making coaching a pleasure.

I love you, LCA XC.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer book sale

What a great time to grab a few more books to round out your summer reading. There are price reductions, bundles, and plenty to keep flipping those pages. And, as always, free shipping!

Please visit the STORE tab to order directly from the author. Your book will be autographed and include a custom bookmark.

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...