Nice Costs Nuthin’


DrivingI was the recipient of two very kind gestures in late summer of 2009, as I began my in-patient rehab experience at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center as a C7 quadriplegic. Frank Smith III, a close friend from my college days, popped over from Charlottesville bearing gifts he’d received from then Cavaliers football coach, Al Groh.

As a former athlete and relatively obscure member of the Virginia Cavalier football team, I’ve learned, experienced and been known to say that athletics is a realm rich with lessons to be learned. Most are hard. Some are intellectually understood only, long before the professing lesson-understander really owns the force of the lesson. Some lessons are direct, like get right back up when you’re knocked down. Some are unwelcome, like fame is fleeting. And some are more oblique germinating only under the right (usually trying) conditions, like finding true and much needed comfort from the fraternal bond that is forged in the heat of the common struggle, or like practicing the gift of heart-felt encouragement that issues from that common struggle.

Frank was then, and remains, a friend of over three decades, with all the implied common struggles and experiences one might expect. It was he who first approached Coach Groh, requesting a team-signed poster in hopes of re-infusing his newly immobilized friend with pluck and vigor. He took time away from work and traveled the 8 hours from the Hook to Atlanta – bearing gifts, but also being present, reminding me I was not alone.

Coach Groh, midst a difficult season, took time to arrange for not just a team-signed poster, but many extras: a signed game ball, a personalized game jersey (with “HEIDEL” and “71” sewn on), and nine personalized Cavalier football t-shirts, one for my wife and each of my eight kids. This time, we were reminded we weren’t alone.

While it could be reasonably asserted the monetary value of a road trip and the trappings of game-time Cavalier man-cave loyalty were not overmuch, both their gestures were of great value. Both givers were veterans of shared, or of in-common sorts of, struggles. Both gave when giving wasn’t convenient or timely. Perhaps their significance was great to this recipient in direct relationship to the givers’ respective inconveniences. Recipients don’t always have a the measure of what givers go through. But I knew. Besides, to highjack a phrase, “A gift’s value is in the eye of the recipient.”

Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant is credited with having said “Nice costs nuthin’.” Jerry Ratcliffe, sports writer for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, wrote about “Bear” in 2009. I stumbled upon his article recently. Its link is cited below.

I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, think back over your own lives, and soak-in its lessons.

Blackberries, Or Bushes Afire?


We await a smaller mob than most years – we’ll have 15 around the table. I cite a link to our Thanksgiving experience in 2009 I hope you’ll enjoy:

But also happy to step out of the way of my good friend, Frank Smith III, a far more gifted writer than I am, who emailed a spot-on and fresh Thanksgiving missive that I am pleased to share:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Aurora Leigh,” Book VII)

I read Barrett’s beautiful poem again this morning, as I do every Thanksgiving since I discovered it. The poem says it all, and says it well.

So few have the eyes to see that, as the Seraphim cry out in Isaiah, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts… the whole earth is full of His glory.” Psalm 19:1 tells us, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”

Take a few moments, and silently list just a few of the ways in which you are blessed every day. The tolling of distant church bells on a crystal clear, frosty night . . . the touch of a child’s hand, or a grandmother’s cheek . . . the warmth of a friend’s arm around your shoulder. The taste of a turkey that your beloved labored over for hours. An expanse of dark green, snow-capped forest under the rosy-pink of early dawn. A dog’s eyes, expectant and bright, when he brings the ball back for the fifteenth time.

Forgiveness. Loving-kindness. Justice. Grace under pressure. It’s hard to stop, isn’t it? This is our Father’s World. And how He reveals Himself to us, in it . . .

Yes, the world has fallen, and until Christ’s return, the creation groans: longing for things to be made right and for freedom from sin and death. There are wars, and rumors of wars, as there have been in every year since that Fall. Amidst the beauty thorns of many kinds and shapes sadly “infest the ground”.

But God’s amazing handiwork still shines through, causing awe and wonder to well up in our hearts and pour forth in thanksgiving. Praise Him.

And praise Him also, that even when sin and sinners mar His work . . . He has willed to redeem those actions for good. A far deeper good, a greater and more far-reaching good, in fact, than the enemy could ever imagine . . . and a good that will one day reflect His sovereignty and His wisdom and His love for all eternity.

Remember Joseph, whose dreadful fate turned into the salvation of his family, and his family’s people. And then, remember Jesus . . . ! And say out loud with Paul, as he marveled at God’s handiwork in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

So. See with new eyes, the handiwork of the One through whom all things were made, and have their being. And look also, as the Spirit even now moves and heals and transforms, and love grows in human hearts where there was none before, and God’s Kingdom advances.

And watch as Our Lord — already victor over sin and death — continues to roll back the darkness and prepare our world for His Second Coming: that time in which, as John writes in Revelations, ” . . . He will dwell with (men). They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them, and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes . . . and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying in pain, for the old order of things will have passed away” (Rev. 21: 3-4).

See, look, watch . . . and be thankful.

Far More Weighty and Real


Having played on the 1977-80 Virginia Cavalier football team – well, practiced mostly – I was interestedly watching the Cavs (seldom televised anymore) play the Miami Hurricanes yesterday evening. As they hung on to a slim 6 point lead, early in the fourth quarter, they failed to score from inside the 5 yard line on third and simple. So, the necessary kicker and holder trundled out to attempt a consolation-prize field goal. The ball was snapped to the holder. The holder placed the ball uppy-downy between turf and fingertip, executing a laces-obviating quarter spin, and the kicker’s shoe impacted and propelled the ball through the uprights. Wait! A pair of penalties on a pair of over zealous Miami players — off-sides (declined) and roughing the kicker (accepted) — gave Virginia the ball again, and they scored three plays later, extending their lead to 23-7.

On the ensuing kick off, Herb Waters, a Junior wide receiver with Miami, sustained an injury that left him in a heap, motionless on the turf. My years-long honed enthusiasm for the Cavs and dislike for their opponents was suspended in an instant, I held my breath for what seemed like an NFL Films cinematic slow-mo replay. I watched with laser focus as a small army of team (both) trainers, and emergency medical technicians went to work. They double-timed it out to where Waters lay, bringing the imposing and dreaded back board with its myriad straps and cushioned but rigid triangular head blocks. Encircling the injured Hurricane, they immobilizingly positioned him for transport. “Move something! Move your foot, or a hand!,” I demanded. But nothing moved, and they whisked Waters off the field to the University hospital.

Both Virginia and Miami have soldiered on through disappointing seasons this fall. Each a mediocre team relative to season opening hopes and expectations, tilting in hopes of notching a sixth win and bowl eligibility. Sports is a universe full of lessons to be learned — lessons about sadness and disappointment to be suffered, jubilation to be celebrated, battles to be fought and struggles to be endured, the fleeting and changeable nature of success, the brevity of being on top and the bullseye worn by those who are there. At the end of the day though, sports are only sports — paling in importance to a few things that are far weightier and real.

The final score was 30-13, Virginia over Miami. I went to bed at game’s end, but restlessly replayed what I’d seen through a fitful night of light sleep. I awoke and later went to church prayerfully thinking of Waters. Home from service, and still distracted by not knowing what his condition was, I googled injured Miami player, and learned very happily his injury had not turned out to be severe, and that he had been cleared to travel home with his team.

Mr. Waters, though the outcome has kept a light wind in Cavalier bowl prospect sails, and Miami’s post season hopes are not overly promising, I and all who read this and understand celebrate your far more weighty and real win.