United

At this point, I’ve seen enough to know that no matter who wins in November, we will be a nation divided. The gap continually widens as we throw mud at each other and blame someone else for things that are broken. I’m here to call for unity. It’s time for you, me and all of us to take a long hard look at the mirror. To admit that we’re all at fault and to see “the other side” no matter who that might be, as real American people. We won’t get anywhere with all this arguing, fighting and name calling. It has to stop. We have to open our hands and look at each other and ask, “How did we ever get to this?” We’re all people and we all deserve a heaping dose of truth, justice and The American Way. And the only way we get there is together. We the people of The United States of America. UNITED

Not Easily Broken

It’s tough asking for advice.

Well, it’s not tough to ask for advice. It’s tough to ask for advice when you think someone might actually disagree with your plans or opinion.

Asking for someone to rubber stamp something you’ve been working on or tell you that your ill-conceived idea is terrific is easy. We all love a good yes man.

But it’s not what we need. We need an advocate that listens to us, knows us, and is not afraid to challenge us when we are wrong.

Mentoring a student is really no different. Because, as we all know, kids, especially teenagers, pretty much know everything. But maybe, just maybe, if there were a trusted adult, who isn’t their parent, to come along side and simply ask questions like:

Are you sure about that?

What if that isn’t true?

Maybe there is another way?

Could it be that this isn’t the best answer?

Maybe in that situation, we’d break through and get their attention by showing them that we do care and we aren’t going anywhere.

This kind of bond doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a bond like that. You can’t show up once and start telling a kid what to do. Actually, I can’t think of any relationship where you get to show up and on the first day start telling someone what to do.

To have that kind of relationship you have to keep showing up and be consistent and really work to be the kind of friend that shows the commitment where you actually win the right to be heard.

Then you develop the kind friendship King Solomon talked about in Ecclesiastes:

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord with three strands is not easily broken.

Do It Again

 

I wrapped up another week of coaching basketball to elementary and middle school kids last week, and I find myself in a position similar to one I’ve been in the past few years.

This is my 3rd year coaching this group, and my 5th year of being involved with the camp.

It is exhausting. The days are long, the kids don’t always listen, and I can’t keep up with them like I used to.

So, every year about this time, I wonder, “Is all of this worth it?”

The late nights, the fast food dinners*, the changing the in the bathroom, the sore throats from yelling, the occasional headaches, the emails and phone calls at work that don’t get returned.

Is it worth it to put all my “priorities” aside for a week and chase a bunch of kids around a loud gym?

Yes. Because when my new buddy Dre comes up to me on the last day of camp and he’s crying because camp is over, it’s worth It.

Yes.  Because when one of my kids from last summer meets me as I walk in the door to give me a bear hug, it’s worth it.

Yes. Because when it’s my time to share stories from The Bible and there are 80 to 100 pairs of eyes listening to every word I say, it’s worth it.

Yes. Because when a girl who obviously has never heard the Gospel asks me questions about Jesus and then goes home that night to memorize her Bible verse, it’s worth it.

All of the fatigue, frustration, planning meetings that I don’t really want to attend, and even the pie in the face I got on Friday night when the girls beat the boys in a fundraising contest. All of it is worth it.

Because for a few hours last week, I wasn’t boring old insurance man peddling my general liability wares.

I was Coach Warner.

And I wouldn’t choose anywhere else in the world than being Coach to that group of kids.

 

 

*The young me can’t believe the adult me even contemplates this but yes, I have to own up to the fact that there really aren’t many nutritious and healthy options in the drive through line. One night, I ate 2 packages of peanut butter and crackers for dinner and I felt like I had a real-life hangover the next day.

The Link, Explained

I know from experience that all my words and carefully contrived explanations about what it means to receive a link for the most part fall on deaf ears.

I know because in the several cases where I have had campers return from previous years, I extend them the “privilege” of explaining what it means to earn the link. And they usually can’t do it.

And I know as a parent that kids are bad at remembering things you tell them and they’re especially bad at talking to us as adults when we ask questions like, “So what did you do to earn that link?”

I’m probably the only one out there but when I ask my kid questions like that his answer is always, “I don’t know” or more appropriately, “Uh uh uh”

So, on the chance that some parent out there wants to know what exactly The Lesson of The Link is:

In the game of basketball, and in every game, there are 2 things that you will have control over at all times.

Your attitude and Your effort. 

That’s it. Those are the only two things. There will always be a bad play, a bad pass, a better opponent, a bad ref, a hot gym, a sloppy field or court.

But you can always control your effort and your attitude.

Your attitude and your effort are THE LINK to your success. When you have a good attitude and give your best effort on every play, you are the strong link that your team needs to be successful.

You earn the link and you learn the lesson by showing your coach you understand how to have a championship attitude and giving 100% effort.

 

These lessons also apply in life. You can’t control very much in life. But you can always have a good attitude and put forth 100% effort.

Some of us spend our whole lives learning this lesson. It’s better if we master it when we’re young.

The Link

Last October, I attended the funeral of a man who meant a lot to me. 

He was my camp counselor for 4 years and he had a tradition of giving you a chain link when he saw you doing things right. 

Next week, I get the opportunity to pass that lesson down to 30 elementary and middle school kids. 

I’ve thought a lot about my old counselor these past few evenings as I worked on these rope necklaces after work. I imagine him sweating it out in his garage as he cut up countless links with a bolt cutter. Actually, I don’t have to imagine because I’ve lived it.

It’s funny how you look back and appreciate the things people did for you when you were younger and it sometimes takes 20 years to really understand all that went into what they did. 

These links are for you Coach Cone, the chain continues in your absence. 

 

The opposite of well rounded

Last year, I saw one of those advertisements for hand-writing where it promises to make you a rock solid calligrapher if you just take some courses and maybe spend $1,000 and a  bunch of hours practicing.

I practiced lettering and making all my letters look real nice. I bought some fine tipped pens. I spent a few hours each week really working on it.

I sincerely gave it the old college try.

For about a month.

Then nothing improved and I went back to being the lovable buffoon that laughs when people fall down and  gets salsa on his shirt (EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.)

The truth is I’m not artistic. I’m creative. Just not artistic. I could spend 10,000 hours and maybe get a little better at hand lettering but it is not a gift I was born with.

My Top 5 Strengths per Strengths Finder are: Strategic; Empathy; Developer; Positivity and Communication.

I find much more value in applying what limited time I have to getting better at the skills I’m already good at. It just makes more sense.

And relating that to mentoring, I’m  fascinated with the idea of identifying the areas where kids are already gifted and then spending as much time and energy as you have developing that skill. Which is basically the opposite of what we do in public education. You’re good at reading? Very well, let’s put you in some science classes. You’re obviously a gifted artist? That’s all okay with me but we want for you to be better at writing essays.

Because when we celebrate accomplishments for doing unbelievable things, it is almost never due to the fact that someone was well rounded.

“Ladies and gentleman, this is a perfect specimen of being exactly in the middle in every measurable facet!” (Actually that is the plot of Idiocracy)

The reality is, in most professions, the most gifted people are completely inept in other areas. The very best salespeople are generally terrible at details. They break the rules, they do the opposite of what everyone else is supposed to do. They come in late, they leave early, they skip meetings, they don’t turn in reports and paperwork. And none of it matters because they bring in checks which pay the bills, and the CEO will never fire the guy who makes it rain.

Imagine with me a world where we invest wisely in steering kids into rewarding professions that are completely suitable with how God made them. We let the artists be artists. We take the numbers dorks and give them as much accounting and finance classes as they can handle. We take the ones who just don’t care about any of it and teach them a trade where they get to be outside and work with their hands, which is what they’ve been telling us they want to do anyway.

Imagine it. Doesn’t it sound like a pretty terrific place?

 

Return of The Mack

I’ve been thinking about my mentoring kids a lot lately. Probably because it’s coming up on Father’s Day and many of these kids end up being paired with a mentor because of the lack of an adult male role model.

I’ve been derelict in my duties, mostly because of intimidation. Intimidation because the work is too great and I’m just me. There are literally millions of kids out there. I can’t be there for every single one of them like I want to be. I could name five off the top of my head that I wish I had the time for and I don’t. I’m disturbed by that.

Truthfully, I’m disturbed by a lot of things I see. And so I am back. I’m back because I have to say something.

I have to say something about these millions of kids out there who need someone in their life to show up and hang out and show them that they matter.

I have to say something about these kids that we are saddling with college loan debt, many times in the six figures, with almost no employable skills. There has to be a better way.

I have to say something about these kids that we are telling college is the only way to be successful in life. I find myself many times looking at people I grew up with who went into a trade and look at where they are now. Why isn’t someone explaining this is indeed a viable career path? Or rather, I know that someone is saying these things. I know there a few people out there pointing this out. What I want to know is why aren’t we shouting this from the rooftops?

I have to say something about getting in front of these kids and showing them we care. Showing them they really aren’t invisible idiots who we don’t care about. I have to say something to them and to us. It’s our job as the adults to join together and leave this place a little better than it was when we found it. I’m honestly not certain that we’re doing that right now.

So, yeah, the Mack (that’s me, and don’t worry, I’m aware that A) no one uses that terminology anymore and B) referring to myself as The Mack actually makes me a dork and I’m cool with it) is back and I have a lot to say.

It’s been boiling over in my head for too long now and I’ve been trying to make sense of it. I’ve been hung up on writing perfect words and getting everything just right. None of it matters to be really honest.

And if in the end, I write down a million words and burn it all in a large pile so no one ever sees it again at least I’ll be able to say I tried. And that’s better than doing nothing.