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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Power of the Written Word

My parents kept a lot of junk but they kept some pretty great things too. Both of them were deeply involved with people in their life work and thus generated praise and criticism from various directions. Well, my mom generated praise but my dad...well, both were certainly in full supply! One of the neat things I've found in my digging around their stuff were files that my father kept of letters, notes and even telegrams! that he received throughout his coaching career. It has been deeply meaningful for me to peruse these letters and see the deep impact he had made on so many people across so many years. The fact that I never knew any of these letters existed points to his humility. He never sought praise and always down played it but finding these files affirmed in my mind that even the toughest football coach needs a little positive feedback once in awhile! Because while the praise file was pretty thick, so was the file marked Letters: Problems. This file was equally enlightening because it revealed to me that all was not fun and games for him. While spectators enjoyed the fruit of the winning seasons, we were not privy to the disappointment and anger that parents, school administrators, other coaches, referees etc. expressed to him over one issue or another. Again, it shows his deep character that I also never knew of these struggles but I can now see how deep the burdens often were even in the midst of his winning seasons. It gives me a greater sense of how much pressure he felt to win, to please, to make the right decision about every player, to handle the parents and the school administration with kid gloves. It's a wonder he stayed in it for so many years.
But finding these files reminds me of a couple of things. First, it is important for all of us to be reminded of the good job that we are doing. And because we will also face deep criticism at some point (all who pursue excellence will face criticism), it's important to keep a "pull me up" file! In this day and age it's harder as we have to print out the messages that come via email, but even so, it's important to compile the compliments so you can return to them when you are mired in conflict or doubt. A counterpoint to this however is to become the one who writes the note or email that sends encouragement to one who is blessing you at any given moment. These notes matter, regardless of how successful or confident an individual seems.
I suppose not all of us would keep a Problems file and yet, there's value here as well for our story is never complete without the ways in which we have to confront criticism or adversity. I suppose now my dad would laugh about a lot of these issues, which is also good. Perspective is a good thing over time and good for us to remember in the heat of any moment. But I suppose he also took to heart many of the things stated and used them to sharpen even further his skill with coaching and handling people. A counterpoint to this however is to remember when launching critique at someone that it does matter and there's usually a back story or at least far more than meets the eye. It's not that we shouldn't critique those in leadership but when we do so, we should consider carefully what the intended goal of the critique really is.
It's a joy and a treasure to troll through these letters. I even found one from me back in 2003 on Father's Day. Here's a little excerpt because the words ring true even today.
Hi Dad. The one regret that I really have is that I never got to play for a coach like you. I never had anyone so dedicated, or who pushed me, or who knew so much about the game I was playing so that I would really learn and grow and have a chance to be on a championship team. It occurs to me that I should share that with you. We often things about the people we love to other people, but we never share them with the ones involved in the story. So, for whatever it's worth...I wish I could've played for a coach like you and enjoyed the experience that so many of your players did with you. That said however, I am glad I got to be a part of it as your daughter and I'm glad you're my dad. Love you.
I'm thankful I wrote those to words to him while we were still able to enjoy one another's company. If you have something you'd like to say to someone, get a card, pick up a pen, or sit down at the computer and write it out. They will appreciate the gesture so much and you will not regret sending the greeting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Beautiful Game Known as Football (almost) All Over the World

Yes, I am a World Cup fan. I have not always been so. Let's recall that I grew up with a father who ate, drank and breathed American football and let's also recall, that before 1998, I would never have referred to it as American football. But we do grow and evolve as we are exposed to new situations, people and experiences.
Doug and I were married in the spring of 1994 in Chicago. That summer, Chicago hosted the opening ceremonies of the World Cup. Doug was trying to explain to me what a big deal it was for the US to be hosting the Cup. I wasn't very interested. Remember, I grew up with an American Football coach father who really thought that soccer was an activity that may not catch on because in its purest form, it was indeed a communist plot to overtake the world!
But then in 1998 we moved to Sweden. Our move to Europe preempted any thoughts about soccer, at least for me. But by the time 2002 rolled around, I had been the pastor of a church where over 50 different nationalities were present and my global awareness had gone up exponentially! Suddenly every single person in our church was talking about football! The hotel next to our church put up large screens and we discovered that many parishioners were sneaking over to check out the scores on Sundays! And I was learning more and more about the game itself so instead of being focused on a lack of scoring, which frankly, is why many Americans can't get into soccer, I began to enjoy the rhythm and beauty of the game itself. And truly, EVERY single person around me was into it and loving it! By the time 2006 rolled around, I was a full on World Cup junkie like the rest of my congregation! Doug and I took a trip to Greece during the early stages of the tournament and couldn't believe that every single restaurant had outdoor TV screens set up and you could watch the games any time, any place! We even held our first ever Immanuel Cup where men and women from ages 6-70 played football all afternoon in a nearby park! (We have continued this tradition on an annual basis!).

The evening of the final, we hosted a large screen event at church and enjoyed the cheering and jeering that went on.  In 2010, the South African vuvuzelas (the plastic horns that created the incessant buzz in the stadiums) drove us all crazy! By now, I knew some of the players and was really starting to enjoy watching the underdog teams make a run for glory! And now, here we are again in 2014 and the madness has started all over again! I'm in the US right now which is a better time zone for viewing games than Sweden so I'm having a great time checking scores, watching games, and reading the commentary that is coming over Facebook all the time! Admittedly, I still don't pay attention for a full 90 minutes but today I was in a restaurant by myself while the USA-Ghana match was on. I was thrilled to be amidst other fans, all delighting in the beautiful game, as it is known throughout the world. The fact that the US pulled out the win in the final minutes was a real bonus!
Leading up to the Cup several ads were released to generate interest. Here are two that are simply just cool. Take a minute and watch: The Future of Football?
Still not convinced? Watch this beauty and begin to see the global impact of this incredible game. Must Make You Smile
Of course, like all professional sport, FIFA has its issues and football is not void of its problems. But I for one am proud to say that even though I did not grow up loving or appreciating this game, I am so thrilled to have come into the sentiment of the World Cup and appreciate why the rest of the world loves it ever so much. Even my American football loving father began to watch the World Cup because of his Mexican friends! I know, I know...too many games are decided by shoot out. Too much drama from the players who act like they've broken their leg every time they fall down. Not enough scoring to sate the American palette for high scoring events. And yet, to watch the movement, to see the athleticism of the players, to watch an underdog beat a favorite...well, it really is a thing of beauty. And when they crown a World really is a World champion because, well, the World has participated!
In case you care, I'm cheering for Brazil (because I picked them to win) Colombia and the USA because I've lived in both of those countries. (I'm still bummed out that Sweden didn't qualify this time around) and any African nation when they aren't playing the above named nations!
So let me end by saying this: If you don't like the World Cup, that's fine. But please, for the love of the rest of the world, don't complain about it. Open your mind and open your heart to the beauty that is football...and I don't mean American football...I mean World football. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Beginning Again

I need to start writing again. It has been hard for me to do this since my dad died. I have only managed to write two posts since he passed on April 4, 2014. Grief creates a strange sort of fatigue that is hard to grasp. When you are grieving, you find the energy to accomplish the tasks you HAVE to do...things like work and domestic chores. But there is little energy to consider things you should or want to do but aren't pressed in some way to get it done. And even joyful hobbies, like writing this blog, go by the wayside as your insides roil about with emotions and feelings that you often do not understand.
But I've been back in California, with Doug, for the past two weeks as we have tackled the Herculean task of getting my parents' house emptied and ready to put on the market. It's summer in Palm Springs which means temperatures are well over 100°F and moving, clearing, and boxing stuff up isn't the most enjoyable activity. But alas, with Doug's good work ethic and the help of some of the guys my dad was close to, we got it done. We had a sale last Saturday and the thrift store guy came and picked up the rest yesterday. What an odd feeling to be alone in their empty house. In some ways, it helps me to see that it's a structure not a home, a place with memories for sure, but memories that I can carry with me even though the place no longer remains mine. What is very strange is that all these things, all the stuff that filled their house and sheds and closets, was now mine to deal with. It no longer held any value or meaning for my mom and dad. And while some of it is meaningful to me, a lot of it was just stuff they had that they didn't know what to do with, so they put it in the shed. Now, these goods are in our house, sold to strangers, or being sold at the Revivals thrift shops in Palm Springs. The proceeds of those stores benefit the desert AIDS project and I think my folks would be happy to support that.
We ended up with so much trash as well...we accumulate trash because we don't how to dispose of it or we feel ambivalent about getting rid of it. We think we should sell it, or wonder if we will use it again, or if it could be of use to another person...sometimes maybe, other times, not.  This is but a mere fraction of the trash we hauled away!
What is probably the single most profound aspect of losing someone is that all communication is finished. There are no more chances for conversation, opinions, or questions. So on the day of the sale I was thinking about so many different things that I wanted to ask them. I wanted a back story on some of the stuff...I wanted to know why they had so many dishes, why they kept so much unused kitchen stuff, why they had a gazillion still in the original packaging picture frames!
I did find some pretty cool items that I will tuck away and decide about down the road. One of the greatest was this plate that my maternal grandmother painted for my parents when they got married. I found another one that said it was a blue ribbon winner at the county fair! I never even knew my grandmother painted!
And then I wanted to tell them that Adrian and Gabe, two of the Mexican guys my dad was close to, helped us haul stuff and that Adrian wanted the portrait that Dennis had painted of them. I wanted them to know that Arcella, the woman who cleaned for them, stopped by with two of her kids, and was moved by seeing this household, that she had cleaned, now stacked on tables ready to be moved along. Her 9 year old daughter Samantha took the crazy purple hat that mom had in her closet, Mariano, their son, took the desk lamp and some playing cards, and they bought the TV that was in your bedroom. And Arcella said she wanted to come back and clean the place one more time. It was a great gift for me that day to have people from their park stop in, admire the beauty of their home, and speak kind, kind words about my parents. I will have to wander through the park sometime and see if I can spot the various "treasures" that are now gracing another's home. And soon, the home itself will be on the market and I am hoping and praying that a truly wonderful retired pair will see its value and move in and enjoy it every bit as much as my parents have through these years. I seek to move through my grief and accept the reality that my parents are no longer here, I feel both sadness and relief. My memories are sharpened and enhanced by the reality that now there are no new memories...only the ones we have made. And I'm thankful that for the most part, mine are all pretty wonderful.