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Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Real Coach

It is completely coincidental that this post comes one day after the 99th birthday of perhaps the greatest coach in sports history, John Wooden. If you don't know who he is, go Google his name. He is an incredible man whose greatest achievements, he will admit, didn't come on a basketball court.

They are in the lives he influenced.

I don't find it ironic or coincidental that the word coach in this context is the same as the one used for vehicles used to transport people. In fact, originally, coaches were used to take very important people from where they were, to where they wanted to be.

You see, the truest meaning of the word hasn't changed at all.

Personal coaches are now commonplace, not just in sports, but in business. People even have "life coaches" to help them squeeze the most out of their lives. 

When I was asked by a friend what my passion was, this is it. I want to be a vehicle that enables people to get from where they are to places they may even be unaware is within their ability to reach. Sure, I'm probably best known for singing, but while it's something I love to do, it doesn't mean anything to me if my doing it doesn't inspire at least one person to greater heights in their life.

There was a season in my life when I was doing all the singing I could ever have wanted. It was great, musically speaking. But there was something missing inside my heart. I missed looking into sets of eyes and knowing that I'm connecting with them. It was during this period that I stepped away from singing cold turkey. Meanwhile, I started developing relationships with some teenage boys who were finding it difficult, even demoralizing in trying to fit in with their peers at school and at church. These four boys found a bond in each other which was exactly what they each needed. However, no one outside of their circle had taken the time to get to know them and what made them tick.

Somewhere along the way, I found that they enjoyed playing basketball. There it was...an open door. I told the boys I would show up 90 minutes before our Wednesday night youth service, and we'd go up the hill to the outdoor basketball court and just play. There were no lights on the courts, so in the months when it got dark early, I'd drive my car up and park it on the court with my headlights beaming so we could see what we were doing.

It wasn't until I had a private conversation with the parents of those boys that I learned that they each had learning disabilities. The things they struggled with also hindered them socially. In that conversation, each of the parents, including the dads, started crying because someone had finally taken the opportunity to get to know them and show them, not just tell them, that they were valuable.

I don't tell you this story out of any selfish ambition. I'm sharing it because I know there are many of you who have taken time to give of yourself to people just because. What made me feel good was that I wasn't drawn to these boys knowing they had social and learning issues. It meant the world to those parents, and the boys, that I wasn't spending that time with them out of charity. I just loved spending time with them. I had no idea what that time together meant to them. One day in the mail, I received a card from one of the boys, Stephen. Stephen didn't say much, and the card was no different. On the cover, it had a little cartoon dog with a long, sad, droopy face. Underneath the picture was the word, "Before". When I opened the card, it was the same little cartoon dog leaping, spinning and dancing with a huge smile on his face. Beneath that was the single word, "After". Through my tears, I read what Stephen wrote. "Thanks for playing basketball with me."

I later found out that this was completely Stephen's idea. His parents didn't even know until after he had given it to me.

Stephen and his friends felt, for the first time by someone outside their families, that they were very important people. God used me to be the vehicle to take them from "Before" to "After" during that wonderful season in our lives. Little do they know, they took me somewhere special, too. And sharing this story with you has re-opened my eyes to the beauty of that wonderful place where I want to spend my life.

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