We Are All Like Stones On A Hillside

In a literal sense, this isn’t an accurate statement. None of us are actual stones on a hillside. That’s a given, but even so, I feel like it’s a great analogy for any one person’s life as you begin to unpack the idea.

A close friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, recently overcame some major trauma in his life. And it wasn’t any current trauma. We’re talking years upon years of dealing with a very serious issue that has been holding him back, specifically in the area of having and forming solid relationships. The issue being abuse; abuse that was committed against him when he was a child for several years. I can’t sit here and say that I relate to the events of his early years – as difficult as they were – so it breaks my heart to even hear about it. The type of abuse caused him to make life choices that were hazardous and downright toxic in his later years. And over and over, he returned to a place where he knew he was suffering, but since it was all he knew – or thought he knew – he would go there, hating and sulking in the futility of familiarity. I can’t imagine what it was like, but I can see and relate to the hardship. His hardship was unique to him, just as I have my own to contend with like so many others. That is a truth.

Many of us, including myself, were blessed with a safer, more secure upbringing. I am forever grateful for that. Conversely, many of us are not so fortunate. My friend was not in that regard, but in the midst of this trial, he’s endured and something really amazing happened over the past couple weeks. He made a major breakthrough – a concept that sounds out of date and “pie in the sky” but honestly, he did. How do you know? Or better yet, how does he know? Well, for the first time – and I’ll paraphrase his own words – he legitimately felt an absence or longing when he made amends with the party who failed to protect him from the abuse of so many others. His failed protector being his own father; the one person we, as children, look to as our guardian when we are younger. Now, even his father will admit that saying goodbye to his son is no longer an awkward task – it’s a difficult one instead. There’s a new desire to enjoy one other’s company; something that was previously offset by conflicted feelings via years of assumed passivity, denial, or abandonment.

That’s how my friend knows. That’s how his father knows. And the distance between them, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, is no longer filled with that violent static. The grieving has been shared fully and the accountability brought forth. That means there can be movement now; no longer are they inhibited by past chains dragging behind. And that’s powerful.

Many a time, we may feel like we aren’t getting anywhere. Past problems hold us down, keeping us from progressing forward. And we feel stuck in a place that outwardly may look like progression, but inside, we are more than aware of the unhealed wounds. Think of how long it takes people to “get over” a break up or separation. The void left is never equal, it would seem. One person gets a chunk of themselves sucked out and the rest of their existence crumples without warning. This leaves their internal builder – aka themselves – with the job of putting things back in order. But since it happened without warning, the builder is plenty angry with his situation. And however long he chooses to moan, resent, or refuse to rebuild, will determine how long it’ll take to fortify the structure once again.

But relationships are one thing in comparison to a forced encounter; one that was completely out of the person’s control, specifically speaking of my dear friend. Time will march on regardless and we will be asked to “move forward” despite what may lie behind us. That’s the most difficult thing of all – struggling with how to break an age-old struggle before it permanently becomes a part of us.

This reason is why I use the analogy: stones on a hillside. All of us are like stones on the edge of a hill, looking around; wondering if we’ll ever go anywhere other than where we are. We can see the horizon ahead of us, and that gives us a sense of vision or possibly clarity, but the distance is so wide that we’d rather stay where we are – perched on the hilltop and out of the potential mess that could be waiting below. We don’t know what’s there, we just know that it’s unknown and that’s a frightening thought. And it’s these thoughts, coupled by our experiences, that shape us in such a way we can’t move to begin with. Life’s experiences can harden someone to the point of immobility if he isn’t mindful. This leads to inactivity, allowing all manner of weeds (problems) to ensnare the person and further cripple what could eventually start a path towards regeneration. All the while keeping one eye on the sky ahead, thinking and believing it’s either too far away or it’ll just never come to us.

This sounds like something we’d all want to avoid if we could. So how does one do that? Or what’s more, how does any one person stop this from becoming a reality in his own life? The same can happen to people who have little suffering to cope with – they are instead stagnate, immobile on life’s journey. To me, that sounds like a nightmare. I’ll speak honestly when I say that I am someone who has difficulty sitting still. It’s not that I have ADHD (perhaps to some degree but who doesn’t) but I don’t like getting caught or stuck on problems I know can be overcome. If there’s a vision or path to take, then I want to take it. No doubt about that. But everyone has blind spots. And what’s comfortable or familiar may be an attractive option versus something new that demands a serious undertaking. That’s when stagnation can set in, subtly and without warning. And as before, that’s when the weeds will gather and choke the life out of you.

So once again, what does a person do to keep this from happening? Well, a good first step is asking God what to do with your life. No apologies here – it’s a legit thing to ask. It’s what my friend did and it brought him to a place that’s been incredibly freeing. As for me, when I first asked God what He wanted for my life, He gave me some quick instructions: get rid of your clothes. Not all of them, just some of the ones you don’t need anymore. That appears to be rather insignificant, but hear my story. I keep clothes. For a long time. As in what seems like forever to some people. And God knew that I needed to get rid of them if I was to make some changes – good changes – and start rolling forward.

So I did. And a piece of the stone slab that was ‘me’ got chiseled away. That was the first answer I received. A remnant of the old had to be no more. I removed the unnecessary weight; a part of me that wanted to keep my room cluttered and full of junk that really just needed to be gone. Period.

What was next then? Well, I asked again and this time I got told that I needed to coach. Coach what though? That was question three. Then I was told a youth program. I once dreamed of being a school teacher – it’s something I saw on the horizon but was so unsure on how to get there. And since I had chosen a different career path, I thought it was beyond me now. But after I asked this question again, I got a response rather quickly. A coworker of mine asked me to help him coach his son’s ball club. So I took the opportunity and found myself renewed by the experience. Indeed, the vision I had really could be a reality. How exciting, right?

And so, another piece got chiseled away.

Another question, another answer. Another question, another answer. The process seemed to be getting faster. I was still me, but the form I had before all the asking-and-questioning was disappearing. That’s when I started rolling. That’s when things got really interesting. You know that feeling you get when you feel unstoppable? Not the unstoppable like when you’re a teenager. That’s just blind ignorance due to youth and vigor. I’m talking when you know that you can’t be stopped in your endeavors because something is backing you – even if you’re unsure what that something backing you is. That’s the kind of unstoppable I was feeling; rolling full steam down a hillside, gaining speed, and enjoying the ride.

Naturally, that’s when I hit a major snag. What kind of real life story would this be if there weren’t more obstacles? Pieces of myself, still being worked on, staggered my roll and I came to a standstill. Ever feel that way? That’s what happens when you start breaking those outer layers off. It’s fascinating how being honest with God about ourselves has such a powerful effect in our waking life. I really began to see the parts of myself that were truly ugly and I was exposed with issues that I didn’t even know were there! Wounds, lies, broken promises, character flaws – all are fair game when you start rolling. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us, if we’re outside-looking-in, but it’s the blind spots we all have and don’t ever see coming. So when we hit a snag, we get frustrated.

Don’t be alarmed though. My only advice is to not dwell in frustration once you hit that initial snag. Most people end the journey here, too afraid to pull out more of the junk that inhibits their movement. Instead of growing moss on the hilltop, they grow it here; somewhere in between the top and the bottom. But here’s a question – aren’t the plethora of previously answered and kept promises enough to keep going? This is crucial to maintain momentum. And if you do, you’ll be amazed at what you find – more people rolling like you. Just as flawed, but moving just as fast. Just as quickly as you.

These people aren’t like the ones on the hilltop. They’re embracing life’s call, but they are doing so out of a discomfort to become who they were called to be. They’re uprooting the bad parts of themselves, giving it to God, and soldiering onward. Why? Because there are more people flying faster and the thrill of flying faster is far more exhilarating than standing still. Is that not an agreeable statement? Sounds like a lot more fun too. Why position your eyes on the burdens the world wants when you can ask God what freedoms he wants to give you? That may seem like a loaded statement; vague, to a point. But consider starting small and going from there. Mine was clothes, after all. It can be as simple as that.

There’s no secret formula here, but there are definitely easy places to start. One word of caution though: the common confusion after we begin is wondering what God may tell us. When we ask God, “What can I do to help people?” we expect the answer to be something like, “be a pop star.” You know, something that appears to be far-reaching and full of genuine impact. Don’t be disappointed though when God says, “No”. Instead, His plan could be something equally or much more significant than the pop star dream. Something like a school teacher, a cashier at a retail store, or a landscaper. All are important trades. And they are important because they all tread in a very specific, very important field of expertise – they all deal with people.

It doesn’t matter where people are working or what titles they possess. We all mold and shape one other because we come into contact with each other daily. So if we’re asking the right questions, we can be chiseled down to have more of that; the more of that being the surprising journey. I used to think that I wanted everything in my life planned and plotted out according to what I thought was best, but honestly, I find that way to be quite boring. I thought I wanted to know everything – and truthfully, I sometimes do – but my confusion was more about security and comfort. There is certainly security and comfort to be had in God’s plans, but there is also the grander opportunity to be grafted into something better than what you are presently. I’d rather be constantly chiseling away pieces of myself – in keeping with this analogy – than be a square block on the hillside not doing much. That sort of life is predictable and ironically, it isn’t necessarily safe either. Weeds choke out whatever sits for too long. The same can be said for our own lives. How many people do you know that still harbor resentment for something that happened decades ago? There’s a burden there that’s deeply rooted and in serious need of being uprooted. Much like what transpired with my friend. Imagine the kind of freedom he can have now that he’s dealt with this issue. He and his father both. And what’s even more amazing, is how he can share his story with others to encourage people with similar pasts or struggles. My friend is rolling again, but that’s not all – he’s now a beacon to others still on the hillside. And when someone sees that on him – the piece that’s been made new – something cool may happen and another stone will rush down to join him. Thus, igniting their own journey from the hillside.

Asking God what to do with our pain isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s merely a fair start. One that can lead to more life, something so many people have forgotten about and what life is supposed to look like. And if that isn’t convincing enough, consider the alternative to not asking. Nothing can change and nothing has the chance to improve. So be encouraged to start rolling in whatever direction God asks you to, but also consider asking first. It’s certainly worth more than a quick look or a passing glance.

The chasm is wide, but we’re all looking out across the horizon anyway, wondering what it may be like on the other side, provided we are brave enough to ask.

Concerning this whole Rutgers coach thing….

I’ve been out of the loop on current events for the past couple weeks. When you’re entrenched in your own work, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening beyond your personal borders. That, and I don’t watch the news very often anymore. If I see one more story about the inherent danger of rattlesnakes inhabiting my plumbing, which have the capacity to swim through my toilet and bite my colon while I sit on said toilet, I’m going to disconnect my news stations on cable forever. Just saying’.

But this past weekend I got up to speed on a story that concerned a certain college basketball coach – the coach being Mike Rice of Rutgers (formerly coach Mike Rice, that is). Like any American man who has aspirations to send his kids off to sports camp one day, I decided to check into this story further.

Now, when I hear stories about college coaches, it’s not always in the best context. There’s a persistent pattern among these guys where some hidden scandal eeks its way into the light, thus exposing the coach for something other than a proper role model. Unfortunately, Mr. Rice fit right into this pattern. Some “leaked” security camera footage had caught snippets of Mr. Rice’s practices in the Rutgers gym. Conservatively speaking, Mr. Rice’s practice methods and routines were not the most “productive” or “uplifting”.

After watching the footage, which involved Coach Rice screaming profanities, shoving players, and literally tossing basketballs at player’s feets and heads, I was left feeling quite disgusted. He even went so far as to call players ‘f***ing fairies’ and ‘faggots’. Considering how large some college basketball players are, I’m surprised that no one turned and decked him right where he stood. Any one of the guards or forwards could have easily taken out this older man, but that’s just it – he had authority over them. Here was a guy with a position of authority, compounded by absolutely no sense of responsibility for holding that position, and yet every player, regardless of size or class level, did not retaliate because of Mr. Rice’s position. And so, Mr. Rice’s less than redeeming traits continued for a very long time.

Another sad story to chalk up among shady Division I collegiate activities.

You can probably guess what happened next: Mr. Rice was relieved of his duties, the school issued a formal apology and quickly set out to replace the former coach Rice. Bing, bang, boom – we’re off to the races as if nothing ever happened, right? Well, not really.

Since we live in America, we love to tell both sides of the story. The media allowed for Mr. Rice to give his side of the story via a short interview. This is the part I got to after watching the security camera shots. If you missed any of what he said, it was something to the extent of “I’m sorry”, “no excuses”, and “I have to face my family now”.

There was plenty of regret in his voice, I will admit, but there was something lacking in his statemtns. I missed any part where he might have said this: “I got caught and that’s why I’m sorry; not because I really am sorry. I’m just sorry for getting caught.”

That’s what he should have said. Instead, I got treated to the same regretful speech we hear from anyone who gets their hand stuck in the cookie jar. Any person is ashamed by an action that results in reprimand; that’s a no-brainer. But we are also too ashamed to admit how what we thought we were doing was ‘ok’ when we did it.

Rice’s vulgar taunts and poor behavior showed a complete lack of empathy for his players. In no way did he exhibit any of the characteristics one would ask of a mentor. He was a bully, plain and simple. I am sure he thought that by verbally and physically abusing his players, he could whip them into shape. Make them into hard-nosed ball players; the likes of which his opponents would fear and cower against. Because that’s what Rice’s style was about: coaching through fear and intimidation.

Did Joseph Stalin repent for his military tactics during the wars? Was Napoleon Bonaparte regretful in his last letters before surrender? And did Coach Rice really feel like he was doing wrong whilst he badgered and abused his players?

Well, in all honesty, that’s some serious gray area, but it makes you wonder. And by no means am I trying to lump a college basketball coach in with the likes of historically significant figures – I’m merely trying to prove a point. Often our blind ambition leads us into a sea of confused and ill-adivsed procedures. Some considered Stalin to be a tyrant while others praised him for his effectivness. Coach Rice may have thought his tactics as a coach would work in some similar way. That by being a dictator, he would be successful; he would implement his methods thoroughly; and he would be regarded as a respectable coach for his efforts.

Most third-party perspectives would disagree with this though, especially if they are in the business of teaching our youth (aka the staff at Rutgers University). Most people would look at the tapes and call the former coach a ‘monster’ for his actions. They would see the tapes and think, What if that were my kid he was yelling at? What if that were my kid he was putting his hands on and throwing basketballs at? Once they weighed these questions in their minds (and their hearts), they’d come to the consensus that Mr. Rice’s coaching style was truly skewed. That he was in no way a positive representation of what coaches are meant to be like; at any level.

But in his mind? Eh, maybe not so much. That’s why I’d be more impressed if the man actually came out and said, “Hey, I did what I thought was effective. Some people view it as wrong, but that was my style.” And THEN he could follow it up with, “But I see that this particular style of coaching is completely inappropriate. I’ve embarrassed all those around me and I am going to dedicate myself to learning to coach properly.”

Wouldn’t that be more sincere? And wouldn’t you take him more seriously? I don’t mean to single out Mr. Rice on this – he just so happens to be the latest tragedy in college sports scandals. But what I say holds true. By telling me that he watched the footage and had no excuses for himself – yeah, ok, that’s great BUT why not just say that you thought you were being a tough coach? At least then I could take you seriously. Even if I still thought you were a complete lunatic, I could at least respect you for being straight up about it.

Apologizing and saying you’re sorry just means you got caught doing what you thought was right. No matter how you may have justified the wrongdoing in your head – you still thought you were ‘ok’ in what you were doing. Admit that first and then you’ll actually see some change the next time around. That’s what needs to happen after such a lapse in judgment – a complete admittance of wrongdoing and need for character change.

And if I had kids of my own, specifically freshman to senior level basketball players on the Rutgers team, Lord knows what measures I would have taken to get a person like him fired. That’s the most politically correct way I can express that too. Just sayin’.