Nice Costs Nuthin’

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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 the measure of what givers go through. But I knew. Besides, to hijack 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.

http://www.dailyprogress.com/sports/the-bear-s-lesson-nice-costs-nuthin/article_b0491442-bca1-5081-8083-ea8e62a8e57f.html#facebook-comments

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

Far More Weighty and Real

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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.

Father of the Bride Toast — Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner

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Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner
Maggiano’s, Tysons Galleria
August 16, 2013

I was asked by Allie a few weeks ago to offer up the Father of the Bride Toast at tomorrow’s wedding reception, and had already been thinking of what I might say on this rehearsal dinner occasion.

In order to avoid being branded and ill-prepared and unoriginal public speaker, I resolved to come up with something fresh. But, some things, they say, never change and so having borrowed a bit from past rehearsal dinner remarks, I offer up my apologies in advance to those of you who were present to hear those.

Among many immutable laws of nature is this: Chuck in front of a crowd, making remarks = high probability he’ll cry. To those of you who will be unsettled by this I apologize again in advance.

This is the second opportunity I’ve had to attend a Heidel rehearsal dinner and wedding since Chip and Ellie were married and I was only a few months into life in a broken earth-suit. It was splendid to be a virtual participant through the magic of cell phones, video and Skype. Four years on, I find myself not often looking too far ahead with great certainty. So, it is doubly sweet for me to be here with you all in spirit and body, appetites at the ready.

When I first met Kenneth (a.k.a. Ken-Ken, or Ken-Ken McFab-Fab, or K-K McF-F as he later came affectionately to be known . . . even if behind his back), he struck me as a somewhat introspective, quiet man. It could have been that he landed in the midst of the Heidel mob during our mealtime tsunami. It wasn’t long before he seemed at ease, working the crowd warmly — both young and old. I observed him to be questioner and a listener. I was impressed by the range of his relationships, and his ability to dial-in to those relationships on a variety of constructive levels. More than the obligatory surface “Hey — How are you?” As he and I had opportunity to talk, I appreciated these qualities more.

In time, I came to learn Kenneth was a Virginia Tech Hokie. Perhaps not surprisingly and taking some license, in light of Isaiah 11:6 (. . . the VT Hokie laying down with the UVA Wahoo . . .), that proved to be no impediment. He even politely listened to my cover of the Univesity of Virginia Pep Band’s 1979 rendition of a Hokie-fied Ballad of Jed Clampett. See me offline if interested.

I appreciated — if only vicariously — his love for the outdoors, being active, clinging like Spiderman to sheer vertical rock faces, hurling himself out the doors of perfectly fine airplanes, and wandering around the Alaskan bush without enough bread crumbs. I noted these were things he and Allie enjoyed in common.

On one or two occasions we spoke about career alternatives in the Christian camping realm, and I appreciated his wanting to understand and carefully consider that world. I also came to see and appreciate his love for Christ and his desire (put in into action) to influence his many Burke Community Church minions accordingly.

In time he and I spoke about his affection for in Allie and his interest in having that relationship advance. I had some experience evaluating daughter-suitors. One or two of those evaluations went a bit rough early on, no doubt due to my youthful (merely) book-learned zeal and inexperience. When Kenneth and I intersected, we spoke very candidly, openly, and warmly — right? (looking directly at Kenneth) — and it was the case that his interest and intentions were in line with my paternal expectations. His respect and deference meant a lot to me then, and it was plain to see his treatment of Allie was that of a servant, not a self-server.

These conversations weren’t convenient either, as Kenneth circumnavigated the Beltway several times during or heading into rush hour traffic. He had to work hard getting to Laurel to have them.

Our culminating conversation calendared, he secretly met me in the neighborhood and drove us both to Long Horn where we enjoyed appetizers and a beer. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. He told me he loved Allie and wanted my permission to ask her to marry him. I happened to be looking down at that moment (having dropped my nacho), and raised my head to look him in the eye, and I replied, “No (emphasis on “No”) . . . prrrrrrroblem whatsoever.”

Kenneth’s face blanched a bit before regaining its ruddy swarthy color. We laughed . . . OK. Maybe only I laughed.

Our conversation then ventured in a number of directions — all at least semi-serious topics, even the smaller print “In sickness, and in health” possibilities. I appreciated those exchanges (even though he left me with the check), and was again grateful for his viewing this prospect as a servant, not a self-server.

It is sometimes true that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. So might it be said that you can judge a man by the parents and family he comes from. Recognizing the limitations of human agency, but that God ordinarily achieves His ends through means which are sometimes relationships, as Alice and I came to know Bill and Carol better, and have learned of (and now met) the siblings, I appreciate Kenneth even more.

Now onto Allie. When I first met Allie, she was very close to her mother . . . .

It wasn’t long before we were very good friends though, and her creativity, fearlessness and athleticism began to bubble up.

Hair like a Muppet, thunderous thighs, fearless in the face of stampeding chickens, consultatively pushing the envelope in play house, sandbox and dirty laundry closet hygiene, creatively combining free-fall with salad-plate landings. Later a tumbling aerialist with prehensile toes that could wring the balance beam before flipping, spinning, catapulted landings were “stuck.” Able to shag to Carolina Beach Music. A talented car radio in the driveway air guitarist and or lead vocalist (best songs were Don McLean’s American Pie and Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend). Disciplined, hard-working, and a player-through-pain. Able to adapt to circumstances: gymnast and piano student gone abroad, turned ballet teacher and church pianist. Tenacious. Dutiful: surrogate mother to 4 younger siblings while Alice and I were in Atlanta the better part of three months. A lover of Christ and the relationships He finds for her.

Through high school and off to college, her artistic abilities were honed and developed as photo-journalism met Helen Keller, River Citeeziens (Music Man), and Ariel (The Tempest).

Having grown up in a Christian family, many of her presuppositions were put to the test but emerged tempered, not torn to pieces.

And, young men began appearing on the radar.

As Allie’s father, believing I had a role to play in her relationships with these “friend-boys,” I insinuated myself into those relationships. Sadly, my involvement wasn’t always appreciated. Many times I feared that what had been a treasured father-daughter relationship would be hopelessly unraveled. But you know, God is good. He kept both of us soft. And our continuing friendship has proven to be a very favorable climate in which we would later ponder an ever more serious relationship with a certain Hokie.

Kenneth, I appreciate your determination, perseverance, respect and friendship. And I am grateful to the Lord for his work in your life. I trust and believe you will lead and care for Allie tenderly, taking as your model Jesus Christ who gave himself up for His bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:25-32

Allie, I love you and am delighted for you to marry Kenneth. I have no doubt you will adorn him wonderfully. Ephesians 5:22-24

God bless you both.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.