I Learned and Now I Know

Sometimes you are absolutely unsure of the right way to provide comfort to someone. This is my attempt:

I Learned and Now I Know

I’ve learned in this life,

The first step’s scary

And sometimes real hard.

But I got courage,

From mom’s open arms.


I’ve learned in this life,

That I need to brush

My teeth before bed.

At least that is what,

My mom always said.


I’ve learned in this life,

To look left then right

When crossing the street.

A saying from mom,

She made me repeat.


I’ve learned in this life,

I should be polite

And better not swear.

Especially if,

Mom’s anywhere near.


I’ve learned in this life,

Patience and timing

For flipping pancakes.

Mom showed me once,

All the bubbles it takes.


I’ve learned in this life,

How to separate

Dark clothes from the white.

Though rare was the time,

Mom made me wash mine.


I’ve learned in this life,

To open the door

For a young lady.

I said sir and ma’am,

Because mom made me.


I’ve learned in this life,

There is sometimes pain

And some broken hearts.

Mom helped me man up,

Taught me to restart.


Finally, I learned

A mother’s love will

Never ever cease.

Mom kissed me goodnight,

For my final sleep.

~Cotton Steel

Safe Spaces

I awoke a few days ago to these words that I almost immediately tweeted:

“Family provides us with a safe space where we laugh at ourselves freely. Safe spaces strip us of our ability to consider one another family.”

I tweeted the thought almost as a reflex. I then commenced to my normal daily activities and began to contemplate what I had written. And while the responses to my tweet have been plentiful and positive, I still feel the need to elaborate on what may have been the impetus for this thought.

Brian’s Song

I was barely in junior high. My folks were headed out for the evening. I was standing at the top of our stairs seeing my parents off. My dad was pulling the front door shut as he looked back over his shoulder and said, “There’s a really good movie on HBO tonight.”

You need to be made aware of something at this point. Those nine words (ten if you take into account the contraction) accounted for one of the longest conversations my father and I had ever had (save for the time I told him I wanted to go out for football and he sat me down to explain how that activity was going to be immeasurably different and more demanding than pee-wee baseball). Thus, I took heed of his warning (which is how I received his words) and tuned in to the football movie that started at the beginning of primetime.

The movie was titled “Brian’s Song” and starred Billy Dee Williams along with James Caan. The storyline centered around friendships, hardships, race relations, and football (it all comes back to football).

Friendships, Hardships, and Race Relations

Billy Dee Williams and James Caan were portraying Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were teammates for the Chicago Bears during the 1960’s. The movie tells the story of how their friendship had to endure and overcome a number of hardships. Most significant of those hardships was the issue of race.

The manner in which the movie portrayed the two heroes dealing with and overcoming bigotry provided this writer with what I perceived as the optimal way of interacting with friends of another race.

Unfortunately, yet predictably, the method I chose to emulate proved to me that the artistic world often does a horrible job at reflecting real life.

My Friendship, Race Relations, and subsequent Hardship

A friend of mine back then was named Willy (at least for our purposes here). Willy was my lab partner in science class. Willy was African-American. Willy was not, as I learned the hard way, Billy Dee Williams.

I do not remember which science fact was in dispute. I do not remember why I felt I needed to provide some levity with a joke. I do not remember why I chose to pull a quirky quote from James Caan (a.k.a. Brian Piccolo). I do not remember just how long we had been friends when I chose to call Willy a “chicken nigger.”

I do remember my friend Willy’s shocked look. I do remember the shocked look turning into one of pain. I do remember Willy not being my friend the rest of the day.

The Good Thing About Back in the Day

I despise the phrase “Back in the Day.” I find it especially bothersome when I hear my kids using the term (because it usually means something that happened well after I stopped thinking of myself as young). Nonetheless, we had some exceptionally cool things back in the day: Old phones with operators and a total void of Safe Spaces!

Willy and I were forced to endure the rest of the period sitting next to each other in science class. He was forced to listen to my pleas for understanding. I was forced to be subjected to the silent treatment.

Willy was exposed to my ignorance. I was exposed to the hurt of losing a friend. Fortunately, we were also exposed to the way in which we could truly overcome the hardship.

I dialed and redialed that old slow rotary phone. I listened again and again as the other line kept ringing and ringing. It was getting late and near the time for me to be in bed when I dialed that old rotary phone one more time, but this time the other line did not ring. I got a busy signal.

Now, folks of my generation knew exactly what could be done to combat a busy signal. We would call the operator–if it was an emergency–and request a breakthrough of the line.

This was an emergency. I called the operator. I requested an emergency breakthrough, and I got to talk to my friend to well past both our bedtimes.

A Total Turn Towards Safety

Willy and I talked it through. We worked it out. We overcame our differences and thus went on to enjoy a friendship and a bond stronger than either one of us could have contemplated on that day back in science class.

We were fortunate. Neither Willy nor I had a safe place to which we could withdraw. We had to talk. We had to endure some pain (and in my case, a good bit of humility for how wrong I had been). We had to deal with the situation. We had to find a way to overcome and move forward. We did.

So, what if we had a safe place to which we could turn? No emergency breakthrough? Would Willy and I have had any chance of being friends after that day in science class?

The trend today is to steer our young ones towards safe spaces as an attempt to keep them clear of having to feel any hurt, disappointment, or injustice.

My fear is that such a direction points us nowhere other than to an ignorant, intolerant, and segregated past.

I could be wrong, but I see stories like the one below and just feel as if we need an emergency breakthrough.

University Of Michigan Protesters Demand A Separate But Equal Safe Space For Black Students

Semper Fidelis Est Deus Noster

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi.
Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi.

Today is a special day for anyone claiming the title of United States Marine. On this date, back in 1775, the Second Continental Congress commissioned the organization of two battalions of Continental Marines. So, in a local bar known as Tun Tavern the recruiting began and the Marine Corps was born.

Over the past 2.4 centuries, November 10th has evolved (by means of intelligent design) into a day of celebration and revelry.

However, on this occasion marking the 241st birthday of our beloved Marine Corps I find myself more troubled than joyful.

A Warrior’s Full Armor

full-armor-of-godThere has been an increasing number of stories related to how our decision makers are choosing to send our servicemen and women into every clime and place without the advent of a spiritual covering.

Now, I am not looking to get into a debate over shepherding. My concern is not with whether one should be considered a shepherd or should seek out a shepherd. That argument shall be left to individuals with much more knowledge.

My dilemma is with whether those that serve are being sent into harm’s way without the comfort of knowing that they are on God’s side–that they have His protection.

Consider the following articles:

1.       A Navy Chaplain is ordered not to pray in the name of Jesus.

2.       A Marine is court martialed for refusing to remove a quote (only loosely based on scripture, mind you) from her desk.

3.       Veterans are banned from saying “God” and “Jesus” at military funerals.

I am sure most would understand how reading each article (and an increasing number of like articles) increased the amount of conflict in my mind.

The Battle is Already Won

Now consider the three versions of 1 Corinthians 11:4 below:

1.       Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. (NIV)

2.       Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. (KJV)

3.       Every man who prays or [a]prophesies with something on his head dishonors his head [and the One who is his head]. (AMP)

As I have told my students and players in the past, “I may be completely wrong.” Or, like my pastor would often say to his flock, “I might be a false prophet.” Regardless of that fact, I did find some comfort in reading this passage and would like to briefly share my thoughts as to why.

I believe that Paul was foreshadowing the much later arguments of Martin Luther in that our spiritual covering is dependent on our own unique relationship with the Almighty and not in any way dependent on the spiritual covering that may or not be provided by an earthly entity appointed over us.

That interpretation of the verse has helped ease my heart when thinking about those whom are laying it all on the line for us every single day. And being that tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, let me be sure to include all the marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, and coastguardsmen, as well as all our first responders.

Of course, it sure would be nice if we could once again get everyone (decision maker, civilian, and service member) in agreement that God’s blessing is vital to the health of our nation. Because despite what many might like to assert (which includes the folks at the National Archives in charge of putting forth an interpretation of the first amendment), the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution-which our servicemen and women are sworn to defend-provides for freedom of religion and not freedom from religion.

They Do Not Care How Much You Know

“It all comes back to football.”

That was the catchphrase that I used probably too many times with a certain assistant coach. It became sort of a running joke. We could be talking about anything outside the realm of football –  a conversation on faith, marriage, teaching, child-rearing, or even the dreaded politics of the day – and invariably we would be able to identify a potential life-lesson that could be related back to a gridiron coaching point.

I thought our banter to be only witty and humorous. That is until I came to the realization of how an old coach’s saying was influencing my marriage for the better.

“They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

I first saw that phrase posted next to the door of the coaches’ dressing room at Youngstown State University. The poignant thought was attributed to a former Ohio high school and Baldwin Wallace University head football coach – the late Lee Tressel. I have seen and heard variants of the phrase many times since, but I will always attribute that bit of advice to Coach Tressel.

From football to marriage.

My wife and I have survived that rollercoaster of a ride known as the first year of marriage. And when I say rollercoaster ride, I really mean a rickety wobbly carriage ride through a minefield (or some mental image similar to that).

Our survival has led several other couples to the false conclusion that we have some super secret method of achieving wedded bliss. Despite my many arguments to the contrary, my bride assures those other couples that being married to me is not always joyful. Yet, hand-in-hand we continue our walk together into that final sunset while at the same time so many other couples choose to take a path separate than that of their spouse (or former spouse as the case may be).

How is it that my bride and I remain so much in love? How are we able to see through the hard times that the enemy will invariably try to present? Is it true that I am just that much of a joy to be around, or is it that my wife is so much more mature (see the term COUGAR)?

When a man would ask me, I would give some coaching snippets such as “Man-up and do the right thing,” or “It’s not about you, it’s about the team,” or “Just G.I.D. (Get It Done).”

I once heard the advice my wife gives to her friends, and without a doubt she does a much better job at counseling. When asked how we are able to maintain our marriage, my wife tells those that will listen that she focuses on the only thing that really matters: “I know, at the end of the day, that my husband loves me. I know in my heart that he would never purposely do anything to belittle, degrade, or endanger me.”

My wife does not care that I know that I am always right, or that I know that I never make mistakes, or that I know how to act like a bear when I am tired, or that I know how much she spent on a mirror for our front door breezeway. She knows how much I love her, and love never fails (1 COR 13:8).

I am blessed to have such a wise wife.

So, I suppose I will be changing my advice to my guy friends and be telling them to make sure their wives know how much they care.

Which reminds me of something I heard the great coach Lou Holtz once say, “Remember men, the greatest thing you could ever do for your kids is show them how much you love their mother.”

It all comes back to football.