Last weekend I embarked on quite an adventure. It was a very familiar setting but new territory all the same. I’m one of four basketball coaches for my school this year and we wanted to do something that would bring the team together. You know – a bonding experience that would promote teamwork, unity and all those other team cliches.
So upon Friday’s dismissal, three coaches and 18 players drove to Kentucky. Rural Kentucky. Now in case you didn’t read about my new school here just know that all of my players are from urban Nashville, Tennessee. Their neighborhood is their world. That’s their comfort zone. A suburb is a foreign land so staying in cabins in the woods is the equivalent of a different planet!
Only a select few seemed somewhat comfortable when we arrived. As we unloaded the vans and met our camp counselor, most of the guys had a certain uneasiness about them. An anxious look that said, “Where have you taken me, why are we here and are there snakes in those woods?” Even the poor, old, sweet-as-can-be hound dog scared the crap out of them when she innocently walked up and began sniffing around. They were on high alert and every little thing that was a different experience was blown way out of proportion. The crisp evening air was a frozen tundra to them. The peaceful silence of the woods was a haunting reminder that they were no longer in familiar territory.
As we trekked down a hill straight into a thick patch of trees to take part in team building exercises, I could not help but laugh at the events that followed.
Every shuffle of leaves or brush resulted in an overreaction that would make Jim Carey scoff. It was downright hilarious. “What was that noise? Are there bears out here? Is that a snake? Coach, you know I don’t play around with snakes!” These were the conversations that took place on the very brief hike into the woods. The deeper we explored, the louder and more excitable they became. These former (and even current) gang members from the ghetto trembled in fear with a simple sound of a twig snapping underneath their feet. It kinda made sense though, because when they are unsure about their surroundings in the classroom, the louder and more unreasonable they become. It was actually quite eye opening.
The team building exercises went as you would’ve imagined. They were shy and unsure at first but once one of the leaders showed a willingness to participate then the rest followed. The turning point came at the camp fire after dinner. The walk to the campfire was even worse than our walk in the woods earlier because of the darkness. But once we arrived at the camp fire they were almost hypnotized by it and quickly calmed down and you would have thought that they gather around a campfire all the time.
During our time around the fire, the head coach took charge of the discussion and opened up about his past and the difficulties he faced when he was a young boy. All three of us coaches shared a little bit and then we opened it up to them to share whatever was on their mind. It was silent for a few minutes, during which I assumed that no one would speak up because of fear or anxiety. Much to my surprise and delight several players shared from their hearts that evening. Some encouraged their teammates. Some challenged them. Some apologized for their poor attitude and work ethic and vowed to improve and commit to doing things right this season. It was very moving to say the least.
After the boys went back to their cabins for some free time before going to bed, the coaches stayed around the fire for about an hour or so. It made me realize how much I needed the time away and the act of resting and retreating is very necessary and healthy. I was overcome with peace. I was content. I could have stayed around that fire for several more hours. I was right where I needed to be.
Before bedtime, the coaches called each player- one by one- into our cabin for a quick chat. They thought the purpose was to better understand their roles on the team. The real reason was for us coaches to give affirmation to these young men. You see when the coaches had our own time around the fire, that’s when the head coach told us about each and every one of the players that had come to the retreat. He knew their stories and most was not a happy tale. All but two lived with either one parent or with an aunt or a grandmother. A broken home was their reality and most either never knew their father or have no relationship with him at the moment. A few of them live with their dad, but are not getting the guidance and support from them that they need. As coaches we like to say that we can be a mentor to young men, a father figure if you will. That has never been more true than my current coaching post.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I came down to Alabama for the first time since my move to Nashville in the summer. More significantly, it was my first Thanksgiving with my entire family in nearly 10 years. It was a special time for sure. It was also a mixture of emotions as it was uncharted territory. The family was all together but we weren’t. It was a main dish of joy and happiness with a side of sorrow. There are obviously still a lot of question marks right now in my life and still a lot of tears before I sleep. But something is happening to me lately for which I am grateful.
Despite my sadness I am content.
Even though I face uncertainty, my faith is tuning out the fear.
It’s almost like I am embracing the unfamiliar territory. Like my players were able to do on the retreat. They showed a lot of courage and bravery that weekend and at the end they seemed very content with their new surroundings. They wanted to take Ethel the hound home with us. They talked fondly of the team building activities. They were content.
Very soon I will start some pretty intense addiction treatment with my therapist. I am pretty scared. I feel like a patient just before heart surgery. What will be the result? Can I be fixed? Once again I find myself in uncharted waters. The important thing to remember is that I am not the driver of the ship, merely the passenger. That realization is comforting and makes me grateful. I am happy when I think of where God has brought me and I am joyful when I think of the possibilities of where He will take me.
I don’t have to be brave. Just content.