When Caring Turns Ugly

Are you exhausted from worrying about someone?  Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?

Okay, friends.  Huddle up.

One of my favorite football plays is the ol’ Hook-and-Ladder.  To pull it off requires some impeccable timing, skill, and trust … but this one play can change the entire game.

For the non-football fan, here’s the gist:  The receiver goes out for a pass and cuts back just as the quarterback delivers a perfect strike.  As the defense closes in, the man with the ball pitches it to a teammate streaking toward him.  Sometimes the receiver makes a rushed, wild toss.  Sometimes he holds the ball too long and gets clobbered.  In either case, it’s usually a fumble recovered by the other team.  When executed well, however, the defense fails to account for that unseen teammate who collects the toss in stride toward the end zone.

The ol’ Hook-and-Ladder.

That, friends, is exactly the way we should care for others.  With loving skill, faith, and timing, we collect them into our arms, and know precisely when to release them.

Continue reading


An Open Apology for our Mental Health Issue

My friends, I owe you an apology.

I am deeply sorry for my reaction to this most recent shooting.  Even more, I need to offer something else: not an excuse (I, too, am sick of excuses) but an explanation … if you’re willing to listen.

I am broken.

Continue reading

Shootings Have Increased with More Gun Laws, but… #ReaganWasRight

After 2017’s Las Vegas shooting, my 20-year-old son texted me: “If your generation doesn’t do something about this, we never will.  You guys still freak out every time there’s a shooting, but this is normalcy for us.”

His words shot me down.

Continue reading

Racism’s Revenge

I had a high school history teacher who was a Vietnam vet.  He once informed us, “Just so you know, I did tours in ‘Nam.  Tick me off and I might pull a gun and kill every one of you.  And I’d get away with it, too.  Just shrug and say, ‘Sorry.  Flashback.  I thought they were a bunch of gooks.’”  His head bobbed up and down when he spoke as if pounding the words in like nails.  A matter-of-fact expression on his face.  Left eye pinched into a half-wink.  Just like someone taking aim through rifle sights. Continue reading

Participation Trophies

It’s taken me some time to comment on coach Jeff Walz’s rant about participation trophies because … well, to be honest, I am (as coach says) “a loser.”

I have a “participation trophy” from youth football.

My team had a perfect season, a feat few athletes at any level can celebrate.  Even the worst teams screw up and win a game a two.  But not my football team.  The Enslow Bulldogs.  Perfection.  Not a single win.  Never even close.

I have the trophy to prove it.

Continue reading

Why Teachers Suck …

A friend and I were grousing about ignorance run amok.

“Americans get their information from internet memes,” I laughed.  “And in the true spirit of democracy, dullards who have never cracked a book will cancel the votes of people who actually have a clue. What could go wrong?”

“You know what the problem is?” Tim challenged.  “Our country’s a mess because teachers suck.”

teacher2I bristled.

Although I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, once a teacher, always a teacher.  Plus, I have family and friends still slugging it out in the trenches.  I know their battles and the wounds they carry.

“Dude, do you know what teachers endure on a daily basis?” I asked Tim.  I found that, no, he didn’t.  I fear most Americans might be as clueless.

I emailed a former colleague (she’s two years from retirement) and asked one question:  “How has education changed since you first started teaching?”  A week later I received six, single-spaced pages.

When Susan started teaching thirty-one years ago, she had six class periods (about twenty-five kids per class) and two “preps” (subjects to teach).  “We were expected to do all the usual things” like developing lessons, grading homework and tests, handwriting grade cards, and contacting parents “if and when necessary.”

(That last part made me snicker.  Teachers will get the joke.)

A lot has changed over three decades, and though they haven’t broken her, many of those changes have bent Susan to the point where she is ready to retire.

While Tim condemns Susan as America’s problem, her own words reveal why she and teachers like her suck …

Continue reading

How to Train Juvenile Delinquents

Ask most adults their purpose in life and they’ll look at you like you’re wearing a clown costume at a funeral.

I recently asked a group of teens in drug-recovery, Can you remember a time when you did something really well and you enjoyed doing it?”

I gave them time to talk about it—what they’d accomplished, how they’d felt.  Most came alive.  One talked about sports.  Another shared about working on a truck engine with his father.  He recalled discovering his mechanical skills (and how good it had been to connect with his dad—I detected some brokenness there).  Some sat quietly and tried to avoid eye contact.  Their silence revealed plenty: Continue reading

Spoiled Brats at the 9/11 Memorial

After looking for about ten minutes, Laura whispers my name.

“Bert, over here.”

She is standing next to a bronze parapet that surrounds one of the 9/11 Memorial pools.  Her fingers are tracing the inscription of his name:  Paul W. Ambrose

We hadn’t known him personally, but Paul was a hometown kid, and in Huntington, WV, our social ties are rather enmeshed.  We’re all linked by only one or two degrees of separation, and we celebrate people like Paul (there aren’t many like him) because they make us proud.  From Marshall University to Dartmouth to Harvard, Paul had pole vaulted over the hillbilly stereotype.  Engaging, intelligent, and relentless, Paul planted himself among elite company as a congressional advisor, a champion for public health, and senior advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General.  Many expected him to become the nation’s youngest surgeon general.

Continue reading

Hey, Church! You’re Losing the War!

David is dead.

If I could write that with more poetic flair, I would, but it would be no less piercing to his mother.

His obituary celebrates a theatrical whirling dervish who “loved all he met, cheered on the underdog,” and brightened the world with “an incredible smile, an infectious laugh,” and “the best bear hugs of anyone.”

On the scorecard, however, David is just another tally mark in the Overdose column.  We say that addiction killed him, but that’s not true.  The drugs, like most addictions, were just self-medication for deeper wounds.  They always are.  I heard someone say that we live in a world at war, and nobody gets out of here unscathed.

Anyway, David is dead.  As Dickens proclaims, that must be acknowledged should anything wonderful come of this tale.

Continue reading

Commission on the Sale of an Ice Cream Whore

(Heads up, friends.  Though I’ve tried to be delicate, there’s some adult stuff in this one.  Like most of my work, it’s a true story, just a bit more literary in nature.  Tread lightly.  Sacred territory here.  Thanks for the nudge, Marie.)


From my second floor office window I see her waving to the ice cream truck as it rounds the corner.  It slows and pulls to the curb.  With an excited hop she breaks into a sprint, off to collect her special treat.

Like a comet’s tail, her flaming red hair trails behind, flowing in the wind.  Wide eyes.  Mouth agape.  Both betray a child’s joyous heart.  Alabaster skin covered in a constellation of freckles.  Tube socks worn from summertime adventures are bunched around her ankles, revealing bruised shins and scabby knees.  Telltale trophies of kickball, hopscotch, and double-dutch jump rope.

Continue reading