Never Turn Down an Adventure Together
During the first few years of Austin’s life I wasn’t a great uncle. It wasn’t intentional, I was just very selfish. At that point in my life my coaching career was sadly more important than anything else. I remember seeing Austin right after he was born in May of 2012 and then being the first one in my family to leave his presence. You see I had caught my big break. I went from being an assistant coach at a Division III school making a $3700 stipend with no benefits to taking a D1 coaching job. The next year I managed to move even farther away from him and basically everyone I knew after taking a job in Florida. I was recruiting across the country, working impossible hours and having a blast doing it. I would see Austin during Christmas and maybe once in the summer if I was lucky enough to find myself in Texas recruiting.
Ironically the time when this hit me the hardest was over Christmas 2014. I say ironically because I have the date 12/24/09 tattooed on my chest. It was the first time I wasn’t at home during Christmas and I felt sad that I wasn’t with my family but knew I was doing something that I loved in coaching. It was as if I was telling myself I love my family but if you there’s a reason to be away from them it’s coaching. Anyway I can remember hanging out with Austin in Nebraska for Christmas that year. We played together and it was awesome, but unless his mom and dad were close he just wasn’t comfortable with me. It my have been partially because I had just shaved my head, “Dad why doesn’t Uncle B have any hair.” I just remember thinking at that time that he deserved a better uncle than the one he had.
I realized that in doing so I had to really be there “with” him in his life more consistently. When I was with him I tried to make a conscious decision that no matter what adventure (game, activity, conversation) Austin wanted to have, my answer would be yes. “Uncle B do you want to play Fireman?” My response: Yes. “Uncle B do you want to go to the pool.” My response: Yes (that’s an easy one I know). As I’ve learned it’s easy in theory and much harder when he comes to wake me up at 7 a.m. or when he wanted to ride on my shoulders through most of the Henry Doorly Zoo. I’ve played silly games that he made up, pretended I was a dog (my name was Rufus) and answered questions covering nearly every topic that a little boy can dream up. I once heard a dad (Mike Anderson) in a speech at his daughter’s wedding say that their family motto “was to chase after life together.” I think what Mike was getting at is when you see someone say yes to an adventure with you consistently then you know wholeheartedly that this person is “for you.” The wild thing is that the silly and unscripted moments you have together are actually the ones that bring the tighter bonds and fondest memories. And I think what I’ve learned the most from Austin in this process is that the more you say “yes” to someone the more they will ask you in the future for your time and companionship.
Care About What the People You Care About, Care About
This past Sunday Austin comes to wake me up and calmly tells me that we should go get doughnuts. Now few things are worth getting up early for, doughnuts with Austin, near the top of the list. Naturally he jumps in the truck still in his pajamas and has a huge sheet of paper with him. I ask him the reason for this piece of paper is for and proceeds to give me a very important lesson on love. He explains that he has written everyone’s favorite doughnuts on this sheet. Mommy likes doughnuts with sprinkles and we should get one with pink frosting because that’s her favorite color. Makenzie (little sister) really likes doughnut holes so we should get her some of those. He then tells me not to worry as they have lots of chocolate doughnuts and that I can get chocolate milk too.
Austin can tell you his mom’s favorite country artist is Aaron Watson, that his grandmas favorite place to eat in SA is Willie’s Roadhouse and many more simple but important likes and dislikes of his favorite people. He cares about what the people he cares about, care about. It’s the reason why he has a small portion of his bedroom wall still covered in UNK Women’s basketball posters and cried when he found out we had lost in our conference tournament last year. He cares about the team because he knows I care about the girls. Austin loves to learn things about people and then turn that knowledge into intentional blessings for them. He somehow realizes at age six, that every one of these unselfish acts whispers his love for the people that he loves.
Diana, a friend of mine and incredibly sweet person herself, used to remind me that “kindness fills you up more than anything else.” Her advice was simple, as the wisest words usually are, and a powerful reminder that something small from me could make a huge difference in someone’s life. I’m sure you might have seen the video that went viral last week of the elementary children signing happy birthday to their beloved custodian who was deaf. When someone knows what is going on in your life and serves you in simple ways you feel well loved. You simply can’t love someone fully if you don’t know them and you can’t know them unless you give the utmost effort to do so. And to see that demonstrated by a child, pulls on your heart strings as much as anything could.
In August when Austin and his family came to visit Nebraska my brothers and I along with Katy (his mom) and our dad went out back to shoot some targets with the shotgun. To be safe we told Austin that he needed to stay inside and left him to play while his grandma watched over him. I knew he would feel left out and that he was a little hurt as I left the house, but at the same time we wanted to make sure he was safe. After 30 minutes Katy went inside as she was thinking of Austin. A few minutes Austin comes sprinting out of the house with Katy behind him and as he got closer you could see the tears in his eyes.
He had been crying not because he didn’t get his way about going outside but that he loves his family and wanted nothing more than to be outside with us. I recently read the latest book by Bob Goff (Love Everyone Always) and in it he proclaimed that if it doesn’t hurt there’s no love involved. And Bob wasn’t talking about a temporary sting he was describing more of the “I just can’t enjoy anything fully because that person is not there.” I think it’s safe to say we have all been there and know the vulnerability it takes to achieve that kind of bond. And that perhaps is best demonstrated by children. Children don’t wait til you get inside to tell you hi, they come running out the door so they can give you a hug while you get out of your vehicle. When they are missing someone they love, they voice it loudly. Austin and I were playing some type of game this weekend inside and in the middle of it he looks at me and says, “I’m really glad you are here Uncle B.” I thought to myself how often he says things like that to me and others and think to probably how rare it is that I say that myself to others (especially in person).
And what all these experiences remind me all so humbly is that I have a lot to work on in terms of loving others as well as Austin does. Being better about being vulnerable to others in making my feelings known and having more non surface level conversations. At the same time it helps me to say yes to other people when they ask me to be a part of their day and their life. Giving myself the constant reminder that it’s not about me is right up there too. I recently heard the song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury and at the end of it he was talking about how the love of God had inspired the song. What he said was that, “I’m not saying that God is reckless. Instead I’m saying is that how He loves is quite so. He’s utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick or cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered it’s quite child-like. His love doesn’t consider Himself first and it isn’t self-serving, and He doesn’t wonder what He will gain or lose by putting Himself on the line. He simply puts Himself out there in the off chance that you and I may look back and give Him that love in return.
And that my friends is perfectly put, words that I think perfectly sum up the love that Austin and other children give to us. Austin thank you for your for your constant demonstrations on love. You light up the lives of so many people in such a simple and genuine way with how you give love and how you receive it. Right now you may not fully realize the impact you make on my life, but someday you will, and I hope in that moment you will be proud of how I love others.