Columbine is not Perfect

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Today is the 20th anniversary of a horrible event in our country: the Columbine school shooting. Although school shootings date back as far as the 1700s, the worst school massacre was actually the Bath School Massacre in 1927 where 44 people died–38 of which were elementary school children. Columbine brought the media frenzy that became almost expected in our generation in the wake of a disaster. The desire for constant input led to story after story analyzing every component of it all.

When researching Perfect: The Building of a Championship Culture, I realized that the young men in that book were from the same time period and had vastly different outcomes to their lives. Below is a small excerpt from the book discussing this very thing.

“Hundreds of miles away in Colorado during the fall of 1998, two other young men began their senior year in high school with quite a different perspective. Both had older brothers much like the players on the 1998 Darlington team; but both of these boys would site numerous bullying incidents, some real and some imagined, as a catalyst for their problems, turning their thoughts inward to a darker place instead of becoming inspired to be better. Instead of a culture of pride and tradition that bred devotion to both a sport and each other, theirs was a world of psychotic fantasy that produced scheming and obsession for destruction and hate. Their background has been analyzed through the years and experts now agree that these were not good kids damaged by excessive bullying, but they were two young boys with severe psychological problems that formed the root of their pain. As their friendship blossomed, so did their diabolical plan. Earlier in 1998, “REB” and “VoDKa” had experimented with pipe bombs and posted their videos on the internet and were also charged with burglary and theft, among other things as well, drawing the attention of the authorities and some concern over those close to them. By the end of summer, though, they began their full downward spiral into complete delirium. 

     So, while those two young men across the country internalized their pain and schemed and smoldered, the young men of the 1998 Tigers set in motion the events that would forever define their destiny as champions.”

I wish that those two young men from Colorado could have found the help that they needed. Today, my prayers are for the families of every tragic event.


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Surviving the Lion’s Den

About thirty plus years ago, I was in my clinical rotations for physical therapy school, and during one of them, I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama. They had a large basement complete with a bedroom, living room, and full bathroom, which became my apartment for several weeks. It was an excellent arrangement to allow me to save money and enjoy some time with my family there as well.

Around the middle of my time there, my aunt and uncle had a trip for the weekend, meaning I would be alone in the house for a few days. I came home that Friday and made dinner in their kitchen, cleaned up the dishes, and then went to my basement room to workout and to take a shower. I was home alone about two plus hours when I settled into a chair to read some articles for the following week. After sitting for about half an hour, I heard a strange noise above me. It sounded like someone walking around upstairs. My mind ran through several scenarios—all of which sent chills up my spine. For several minutes I froze in place, listening for any more sounds, but the footsteps had stopped. A wave of realization lapped at my subconscious, and a smile spread across my face.

The cat! Of course, it’s the cat!

I was so relieved that I let out a sigh mixed with a laugh. The noise was met with a sudden scurrying sound both upstairs and beside me on the couch, where the cat jumped up from a deep sleep behind my head, where she had been sleeping. Now, fear gripped me from all sides as I realized that the cat had been down here the entire time and whoever was upstairs was still there and knew that I was here alone. 

There were no cell phones then, but fortunately, the home phone for this house had an extension in the basement. The phone was perched on a table across the room from where I sat and within direct view of the steps leading down to me. Whoever was up there would be able to see me in the front door reflection if I moved that direction. I was trapped where I was sitting unless I could get to that phone and call the police. Slowly, I crept out of my chair and moved toward the phone, hoping whoever was up there was just as scared as me—but I knew that this idea was unlikely. A criminal bold enough to break into this house was probably just as bold with their ideas of what they planned to do here. 

I prayed hard as I moved across the floor, grabbing the only thing nearby to use for a weapon: a book that was laying nearby. I didn’t look to see what it was, but I knew that this would at least give me something to throw if I tried to run past to the door. Getting to that phone was a priority, and I focused on this with my eyes glued to the staircase. As I reached the table with the phone, I was praying so hard that my lips moved. Slowly, I reached up with shaking hands and grabbed the phone, but as I did, an idea came to me. I don’t have any idea why I did this, but I shouted,

“I’m calling the police!” I yelled. “You’re going to jail!”

I don’t know why I did that, but it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. As I finished my statement, I heard a scramble and someone running. Within seconds, I heard the back door open and someone moving down the deck stairs, knocking over things as he fled. Within minutes, the police arrived and looked around. After the entire incident was reviewed and investigated, they found evidence that a neighbor, who had a record as a Peeping Tom, had thought my family was gone, broken into the house to go through some personal items, and I surprised him when I arrived home, essentially trapping him inside. He thought I had gone to sleep when I was quietly reading downstairs and was trying to sneak out to go home when I startled him and he ran. The police said that I was extremely lucky, but I knew I had been protected that night. When I stopped shaking and the police left me for the night, I was still gripping the book close to my chest. It was the Bible.

The man that broke into the house was arrested and thank goodness I’m here to tell the story. That fear, though, was something unlike I had ever experienced in my life. It is the only way that I can identify with Daniel as he was thrown into the lion’s den. Most of us know the story of Daniel denying the king’s law and continuing to worship God. As a punishment, the king threw Daniel into the lion’s den, where he should have been torn apart instantly, but instead, the lions’ mouths were sealed. But lions have more than their mouths, they have powerful bodies and long sharp claws, yet these lions did not attack in any way. I think that it’s interesting that God didn’t stop anything but the lions. He allowed Daniel to be arrested and convicted and then thrown into the den. Daniel was put in the worst possible situation and it was only then that God decided to intervene. I know that my situation was entirely different inside that house with a criminal upstairs, but I felt alone, vulnerable, and terrified. I don’t know what went through Daniel’s mind that day, but I do know that he had to go through that lion’s den to see God’s power. My mind was filled with horrible thoughts that night as I crouched in the basement clutching the phone, but thankfully, I’m here today to tell the story. I believe that my prayers were heard and answered and that the protection that I sought by grabbing a book was symbolic that the Bible is a part of that protection. It is where we go to read about God’s love and protection and His amazing miracles through stories like Daniel and the lion’s den. We will all experience things that bring fear and maybe even danger and sometimes it may feel like a group of hungry lions are upon us, but I can tell you that He is there in your fear and uncertainty just like He is there every day through all circumstances. Trust Him. He will deliver you.

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Pain Relief

Revelation 21:4

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Understanding why things happen is not always easy. I tried to touch on this in two novels, A Rose For Jonathan and Quiver. One of my characters in the first novel asks why things happen. Another character answers that they don’t always understand it either. I think as a Christian sometimes we feel like we have to have all the answers, but we don’t. I think being honest with someone who is hurting is much better. The Bible gives us a lot of insight into many things, but it doesn’t answer everything. I don’t think we can handle all the answers and it’s not important to me to always know why anymore. I stand on the faith that no matter what, He will see me through.

Not long ago, I knew three families that each lost a small baby within only two weeks. I knew each family was hurting more than I could understand, but it was tough on me too. Not long after that, we had some friends who lost their 18-year-old daughter. Those moments didn’t just put me on my knees–they yanked me there. I was raw and torn by how to talk to them and help them through such a terrible time. In many ways, several of the family members ministered more to me than I did to them. I marveled at how the Grace of God enveloped them in their pain to allow enough space for them to each work through their grief one day at a time, and even one moment at a time. We cannot understand His plan or His way. The Bible clearly says in Isaiah 55:8 that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. I like the New Living Translation of this verse the best. It says,

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”

Wow. I can imagine quite a lot. After all, I’m a writer. To think that I cannot even imagine the mind of God is overpowering to me. It gives me peace and it gives me hope. Then to know that He will “wipe every tear”…every single tear. Not one, but it says EVERY tear. Then it says we will have “no more mourning,” and I can only say THANK YOU for that. A place with no tears, no mourning, no more pain…I’m in! I hope you are too.

I know each of us has experienced grief in different ways, and some of you have had more than your share. I hope you will take the words of these verses above as well as many others in the Bible and use them to comfort yourself and others around you who may be struggling. 

One final verse that I cling to daily…

Philippians 4:7

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

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Spring is Coming!

     Spring is such an exciting time. I remember when our children were in school, one of them had a teacher that had us gather “signs of spring” like a broken bird egg or a flower for them to bring to school. Our searching would lead on long walks while we looked around at the buds on the trees and many of the early blooming flowers. This year, I was out on a trail hiking with my husband when we came across this group of daffodils that someone had planted years ago. Nearby were the remnants of an old home that was now reduced to only a few stones. I wondered how long the flowers had been there and about the people who had planted them. My thoughts meandered through several stories that I created in my head about the family that had once lived there.

     Daffodils always appear in late February around us—long before we have established consistent warm weather. I admire these flowers every year for their boldness. They are one of the first groups of blooms that dare push through the soil and expose themselves to the unpredictability that exists in springtime. Even in the presence of snow, they are one of the few species of flowers that can survive and grow. I love how daffodils return year after year and create some of the first returning colors to the brown and barren landscapes. They are symbolic of rebirth and spring. They are from the Narcissus genus and there are thousands of hybrids. Some people refer to them as buttercups, but that is a different flower altogether. Calling them Jonquils is wrong as well—only one type of Daffodil is a Jonquil. Daffodil is the common name that correctly identifies them no matter what exact kind they are. 

     Regardless of what we want to name them, they are a beautiful sign of hope and happiness and the signal that nature is awakening once again. I want to be more like them: bold and brave in the face of whatever may come. They remind me that whatever happens, we can keep going…push through…and still bloom where we are planted.

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The Stress of Christmas

 

 

     So many emotions flooded her young mind as she laid quietly in the dark. Her body was changing, and soon she would no longer be able to hide the secret that was swelling within her. Telling everyone and telling no one. Both seemed best and yet she was unsure. Her tears fell both from joy and fear, but she felt the strength to endure whatever would come her way. She was certain she would be safe even when the traditions of her culture might dictate otherwise.

     Days went by, and she traveled to visit her cousin to talk to her about her predicament. This visit confirmed what she had been told, so she returned home knowing that she needed to speak to the man that was to become her husband. Telling him her secret would be both scary and dangerous as he would then have the power to condemn her. She approached him carefully, and as she spoke, the words spilled out in waves that tumbled and churned before him. She was asking him to believe things that didn’t make any sense, and he was sure that she was telling him a lie. He left. Within a short time, though, he returned. An angel had now visited him too. Joseph was now ready to face the criticism alongside his bride-to-be, and he was determined to do the will of God.

     When it was time to travel to Bethlehem, Mary was very uncomfortable and tired. They moved slowly and carefully, hoping nothing would happen before they could get to the town. Finally, they arrived. They must have felt an incredible relief at the sight of buildings and people, especially with Mary so far along in her pregnancy and needing a place to rest. After being told no over and over again, a stable might have seemed a blessing. In these harsh and dirty conditions, our Savior was born into this world. No video cameras were catching the first moments, no nurses were there to wash him and wrap him up, no doctors arrived to inspect him or to assist in the birth, no relatives were in the waiting room. There were no pictures, no fanfare, nothing but a mother and a step-father who loved him. As they endured the labor and delivery after such a long journey, Mary and Joseph must have felt at peace for a moment as they stared at their newborn son. His tiny hands would grow and someday work with wood alongside his step-father. Later they would heal the sick and do many miracles that would show the power of God. Finally, those hands would be nailed to a cross and help support his weight as he slowly endured a painful and horrible death. I wonder if Mary looked in his face and considered how this small helpless child would become the Savior of the world.     

     In this season, we often rush around town to a variety of stores. Maybe we prefer to sit at home and let our fingers fly over keyboards to grab the gifts for family and friends we are sure will bring happiness and joy. We worry over the decorations and stress over Christmas productions and concern ourselves with a multitude of details that only matter to us. Maybe for you, the stress comes over getting the perfect picture for the Christmas card. For others, it might be the fuss over decorating the tree or the home. I think many might even feel stress over traveling to see relatives—plucking your small ones away from their presents for a long journey with uncertain rewards ahead like the family drama that is sure to come as everyone gathers. Whatever stress you may be feeling as you move through December, I hope you will take a moment to remember love…and sacrifice…and redemption. I hope you will consider that all of this is because a child was born. A Savior. The Messiah. The good news is that nothing else matters.

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Honor on the Football Field

 

I recently watched part of a series on the Medal of Honor recipients. The commentator mentioned that of the 40 Billion that have served our country, only roughly 3600 have ever received this award. The man honored in the show that I happened to see was named Sargeant Sylvester Antolak. His actions in WWII helped our forces eventually take Rome, one of the first major Axis cities to fall. This man and his fellow soldiers were pinned down by the enemy fire behind a wall. Instead of staying where it was safe or trying to retreat, Sergeant Antolak ran right into a spray of enemy bullets, taking three large round hits over the 200 yards that he covered. Each time he was hit and knocked to the ground, he would pull himself up and then run toward the bullets again. Even with a shattered humerus in his right arm, he continued to carry his machine gun and shoot as he ran. He eventually led his group to overtake the enemy and secure that area. The soldiers with him reported that even the German soldiers were in awe of this young man’s actions as he refused to quit. Later that same day, Sergeant Antolak lost his life as he continued his heroic deeds pushing forward deep into the enemy territory.

As they interviewed other Medal of Honor recipients on the show, one of the common themes I noticed was that none of them wanted to talk about what they had done, but they only wanted to talk about their friends or about what they had accomplished together. Even when receiving their accolades, each one deferred to those that had fallen and those that had fought along side them as if what they had done individually was not as important as their group and the mission. This attitude is exactly what I noticed when writing the book Perfect: The Building of a Championship Culture. The young men and the coaches of this magical team were and still are humble and mindful only of the team as a whole as if talking about the individual achievements was somehow not as important. Today, they have a bond of friendship and unity that has remained steadfast through the twenty years since their incredible year. This bond and their unity were so compelling that even the radio broadcasters of the championship game decided to name the Darlington Tiger team as a whole as the “player of the game.” Even they understood that these players worked and bled alongside each other and as one coach put it, “They checked their egos at the door.”

Read about their journey together and how the staff and players were able to find the intangibles that elude so many others.

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Struggling for a Purpose

 

The end of fall sports seasons is near. Many athletes have completed their games while others are now entering playoff competition. Even though my children are now all gone, I still enjoy attending events to watch other kids compete. Besides, it’s the best way that I know to see my husband more.

We attended a regional cross country meet today. I willingly tagged along knowing that these meets are generally not long, and the sunshine and cold air were beckoning me outside. Of course, we had been outside late last night at a football game as well as attended many playoff games for field hockey all week. I had a pile of work back home to complete, but the drive into the country was beautiful and well worth the time away once more.

Cross country meets are unique in that they provide a chance to see athletes up close as they struggle and compete. I find it comical to watch the fans scurry around the course to grab another look at the runners as they pass. Something festive is always in the air as the crowds gather along the path to catch a glimpse of the athletes running along the course. Sometimes, people get a bit rude as they jostle and push for a good spot, but today everyone was cordial and friendly. I don’t know about you, though, but I have a tough time watching the kids as they run. Something always stirs in me as I see their faces up close, pushing their bodies past the pain to fight against every tick of the clock while willing their muscles and joints to give more with every step. Every course is different, and sometimes the temperatures swell or dip to uncomfortable levels. The face of each athlete tells a different story, and sometimes it isn’t easy to watch. 

Today, I was moved to tears a few times, and this is not unusual for me at these venues. My heart swells for these kids, and I want to hug each of them as they pass. I wish that I could tell them all that they are going to make it and they would believe me. I want to grab each child by the shoulders and make them understand that it will get better. My thoughts gravitate toward comforting them all and giving them hope until tears spill faster and I have to look away. 

And this it’s over. 

As we moved to congratulate our athletes, I had to remind myself that they did make it. The pain is gone, and they are now feeling better. The agony of those three grueling miles is now behind them and they can rest.

Athletics are excellent for kids of all ages. They get to experience hard work, struggle against adversity, work with others to accomplish a goal, and experience failure and success (both of which teach valuable lessons).

Thank you to all athletic directors and coaches for providing a venue for our kids to learn about life.

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Making a Splash

 

 

While my husband helps coach, I take pictures of the football team. It’s just something that I do with my nervous energy—something I can give back to the families so that they can sit and enjoy the games. 

This week, our team lost a tough game. It was difficult to watch, but the guys played hard. As has been every game this season, rain poured down almost the entire game, and so I was decked out in my rain boots and rain gear, carrying an umbrella as I snapped away along the sidelines.

We live next to the school now, so I walk to and from the games. Even in bad weather, it’s a beautiful walk and I enjoy it every time. As I began my walk home after the game this week, the rain was pouring down on my umbrella and I was thankful for my gear that kept me warm and dry the whole night. On the sidelines, my rain boots had become caked with mud and grass, so as I walked home, I tried to stomp off some of the debris. 

As I walked along the road home, I encountered many puddles, which I avoided to stay as dry as possible. Before long, though, I started seeking the puddles and rinsing my boots to remove all the gunk. I began enjoying splashing in the puddles so much that I found myself splashing more than necessary, and by the time I was almost home, I was actually seeking out every puddle that I could find.

I’m sure anyone watching would have instantly thought that I was insane and maybe you do, too, as you read this. I highly recommend that you try it sometime soon. Slip on some waterproof boots and grab an umbrella and don’t worry about what the neighbors think. Even in the midst of a rainy cold night after a devastating loss, those puddles were refreshing and almost invigorating. I submit that you will enjoy this little pleasure, even if you have to do it in the dark when no one is looking.

I’m certain that the small things in life are more important than we think and the big things that take our time probably won’t matter to us much in our last days. I want to lay on my death bed and smile thinking about that rainy night when I didn’t care at all what others saw. I splashed in every puddle that I could find.

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Football, Championships, and Winning

 

 

Winning.

That’s the goal of every season.

Years ago, there was a group of young men who began their season on the football field. There wasn’t much hope since they only had three returning starters and they had lost every single game when they played JV.

Something was different, though, and this time when they stood alongside each other they formed a bond and found their purpose.

The Tigers would experience sicknesses and injuries, but they would endure these quietly and without complaint.

The Tigers would be ignored in the preseason predictions and continue to be called “lucky” as they accumulated wins, but in response, they would seek to prove those people wrong.

The Tigers would face other teams with amazing talent and skills, but they were never intimidated and only continued to play their game.

The Tigers would face one obstacle after another, like last-second goal-line stands and a variety of moments when they were behind or must get a first down to survive, but they would continue fighting and they would never quit.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock of the fifteenth game of the season, they stood together on a field far from their home and claimed their title. When the season ended, it would be the team as a whole that was the hero. Not one single Division I player would emerge from the group of seniors and they could each claim an equal part in their title.

The 1998 Tigers were relentless, mean, committed, and intense, but most of all they were a TEAM. Not team with a small “t,” but a new definition of the word that requires all capital letters. This new word would now have an intensity that only they could understand.

And the 1998 Darlington Tiger football team was perfect.

Read the incredible true story and discover what qualities they possessed that allowed them to defeat every Goliath on their schedule until they stood alone as champions.

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Available in both ebook and print editions

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The surprise is here!

The release date is October 1, 2018, but…

…the reunion is this weekend so…

I’m releasing early! The print edition is LIVE now HERE

The ebook will still say “Pre-order” but will be sent out on September 20!

SURPRISE!

Happy reading everyone! Spread the word!

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