March 2009

Good morning.

Last month I mused about the incredible influence of certain conversations and interactions which seem to burst into our lives at just the right moment—coincidence or providence? As I continue to ponder this idea, I am struck first, by how challenging these seemingly ‘random’ meetings can be, and second and more importantly, by the fact that if we lean into the challenge and do not give into isolation rooted in fear, such interactions often can have the power to change our lives.

I have had a number of such encounters throughout my life, including one in my 20s when I was speaking at a conference at the University of Maryland at College Park. As I was speaking, one 'gentleman' kept grilling me with inappropriate and off the wall questions. It became so crazy that I thought that I needed to get to know him. I was of course reluctant at first, but soon realized that this homeless fellow was utterly brilliant and was brought into my life to add new dimensions to who I am. For decades now, we have been friends. He is a little ‘out there’, but in a brilliant sort of way. He spends every Thanksgiving and Christmas with us. It makes such occasions anything but boring. I now can say that I am a better deeper person for knowing the man we call ‘HP’.

We have all sensed what Adam Smith applied to the markets, as the "invisible hand'. I see this hand in a larger way, a path of light and meaning available to us if we chose to heed and follow. If we pay attention, we see things that others might miss. If we observe, it does seem that there is a bigger plan unfolding. A plan that is not random, but rather purposeful and intentional. Yet often, our fears cause us to end a story before its time. We end things when they get messy. We end things when they get uncomfortable. It’s during these moments that I challenge you to take the leap….and finish the story.

What is ‘the leap’? I am speaking to the notion of taking a 'leap of faith'. Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian and philosopher likened the leap of faith to a trapeze artist performing a high wire act. In order to move forward, the trapeze artist must 'let go' of the trapeze for a short period of time. He or she has to loosen the grasp on the comfortable in order to reach out to the possibility at hand. Sound familiar? The only way to move forward in our journey is to let go...terrifying at times yet profoundly rewarding once accomplished.

I have always found that stories illustrate and underscore such encounters that contain a larger purpose. Stories where a barrier is presented and there is a choice: embrace the new reality or draw back in fear. The story of Kurt Warner, quarterback for the NFL Arizona Cardinals, illustrates this truth for me. Warner was not a highly recruited pro athlete. In fact, Warner at age 22 was working in a grocery store as a 'bagger'. This was hardly the next step following college that would lead one to win a Super Bowl, to be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player twice and the Super Bowl XXXVI's Most Valuable Player. His story goes something like this.

In a supermarket, the stock boy Kurtis, was busily working when a voice over the loud speaker asked for a carry out at register 4. Kurtis was almost finished and wanted to get some fresh air, so decided to answer the call. As he approached the check-out stand, the smile of a beautiful woman four years his senior caught his eye, and at that moment he fell in love.

Later that day after his shift, he waited to punch the time clock in order to discover her name. She entered the break room, smiled, punched her card and left. He looked at her card….Brenda. The next day, he waited outside for her and offered her a ride home. He appeared harmless enough so she accepted. When dropping her off he asked if he might see her again outside of work. She simply said it wasn't possible.

He continued to pursue her. She later explained that she had two children and couldn't afford a babysitter, thus couldn’t see him outside of work. Warner offered to pay for the sitter. She reluctantly accepted his offer for a Saturday evening date. Saturday came around and Warner arrived at her door. Brenda quickly told him that she was unable to go with him since the sitter had cancelled. Not to be denied, Warner enthusiastically offered to take the kids along.

To return to my thesis, a moment was coming for Warner. Does he run, duck and let go of the trapeze? Or does he take the leap…and grasp the opportunity for deeper growth when confronted with a new reality…an uncomfortable reality.

Brenda tried to explain that taking the children was simply not an option. Warner pushed back. Finally Brenda relented and brought him inside to meet them. The older daughter Jessie was as cute as imagined. Then Zachary appeared in his wheelchair. He was born a paraplegic with Down Syndrome. Decision time: run or stay?

With little hesitation, Kurtis encouraged the children to come along on the date. Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with two kids, especially one with such severe disabilities. Her first husband and father of her children had chosen that option. Yet Kurtis was not ordinary...he had a different mindset, the same mindset that took a grocery bagger to the Super Bowl.

All four went to dinner and the movies that Saturday night. When her son needed anything, Kurtis would take care of it. When he needed the restroom, he picked Zachary out of the wheelchair and carried him there and back. It didn’t take the family long to realize he was incredibly special. A year later, Brenda and Kurtis were married. Kurtis adopted Jessie and Zachary and then he and Brenda had five more.

This is an unusual and powerful story. Why do our hearts warm to such a tale? I think it’s because we all want to be a part of this kind of story and be this kind of person. We all want to lean into our challenges and not steal away to our isolation rooted in fear.

Is there a challenge in your life where you need to be present and step up? I have several.

I long to be like Warner.

We all have the opportunity to be great in this way...but will I...will we step up?

Not a sermon just a challenge.



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