Remembering Mom

I was standing in the grocery store a few minutes ago, looking at Mother’s Day cards. What a sobering moment that turned out to be. Tomorrow, I will pause to reflect and remember my mom. Maybe you too will “celebrate” their life while mourning the loss. When I returned home, I pulled up this excerpt of the speech I gave to honor my Mom at her memorial service. I can’t think of a better time to make it public. To all of the Mom’s out there, Happy Mothers Day. Never under estimate your impact, your role, your touch on your family. To all of the spiritual mothers that have stood in the gap since my mom stepped into eternity, thank you. Happy Mother’s Day.

When I was 5 years old, about the age of one of my children, I was running and tripped over a sidewalk. The result was a trip to the emergency room and ultimately stitches and a scar on my chin. What happened in those hours in that emergency room was the coordinated efforts of my parents. My Dad, our protector, did what he could to get someone to help us as the wait for assistance went much longer than it should have. All the while, my Mom, the comforter, rocked me back and forth and sang the words to a Helen Ready song called “You and Me Against The World.”

You and me against the world
Sometimes it feels like you and me against the world
And for all the times we’ve cried I always felt that
God was on our side

And when one of us is gone
And one of us is left to carry on
Then remembering will have to do
Our memories alone will get us through
Think about the days of me and you
You and me against the world

Today I remember my Mom. I celebrate that she is in the place she most longed to be in the presence of her King and her Savior.

Remembering is what we do. 

I remember things like falling down (notice a theme here?) and Mom putting ointment on our knees in the form of a smiley face.

I remember working in the garden in our old house on Randolph Road and my grandfather sneaking up behind my Mom and I to scare us. He had parked his truck down the street so when he said “Boo”, my Mom jumped up so high she literally split her pants.

I remember a time when they renovated my bedroom on Woodrow. Mom spackled the ceiling by hand and with her fingers. I have never been the best sleeper at night and often would sleep on a foam fold out chair next to my parents bed when the fears of life and nighttime would wake me up. In an effort to combat those fears, Mom wanted to create a room where I would be comfortable. Within the swirls of the ceiling, she wrote messages I would find while laying in bed at night.

When I didn’t communicate much as a child, she found that playing Atari Pac Man and Pinball were a way to get me to open up. We spent hours playing those games, breaking those joysticks and creating a mother and son relationship. I can’t tell you who won a lot of those games, but I would imagine the time spent got me through the years of growing up.

I remember the many times Mom would work at the Alexanders Flower Shop at Southgate so her son had gas money, prom money and money for whatever the latest fashion was I just had to have (parachute pants). Even though there was something in that flower shop that gave her migraine headaches. She never complained.

From as early as I can remember, my Mom spent regular moments in her prayers dedicated to my future bride…wherever she was. I stand here today a man overwhelmed by the answer to her prayers. My wife and three children are more than I can ever be worthy of. I believe God answered those prayers so frequently prayed by my mom.

I remember the Bible and a Bus Ticket Home. “One will get you going when you haven’t got a prayer and one will bring you back son if you’re dreams aren’t waiting there.”

It was almost providential that “You and Me Against The World” was our song. The memories indeed will see us through.

While I could spend hours telling stories, I feel it almost necessary to speak of the other thing that my mom loved as much as her family and that is her Savior, her King, her Jesus.

It goes without saying that my mom loved Jesus. She shared Jesus with everyone. Our front porch and home at 83 Woodrow was a testimony to her heart for others and her compassion that everyone know her Savior too.

To the mailman that was lemonade on a hot day and a present at Christmas.

To our neighbors it was listening when no one else would

To many the front porch was a place to lay your burdens and receive a comforting word. It was a place where broken hearts were mended and the problems found solutions.

My mom knew no stranger. Our home was your home. Our door was always open. She was in her glory at Christmas when the house was full of people, the piano top was filled with food and hearts were full of love.

When the summers came, it was retreats to Tuck-away Lake for prayer, fellowship and friendship. No matter where, no matter the season, Mom was teaching Jesus, sharing Jesus, being Jesus.

As Tina and I grew up, Mom would often say that our accomplishments were their diplomas on the wall. I always envisioned the long hallways of our home on Woodrow Avenue with framed pictures to signify our accomplishments, most based on Mom and Dad’s sacrifices.

Each time I had any form of success (job promotion, special honor or a unique happening), I would call home to say “I got another diploma for your wall.”

Mom didn’t have a college degree. She didn’t have a Masters in theology or a degree from a prestigious Seminary. She couldn’t tell you the greek meaning of the second word in the 5th verse of Matthew. What Mom had was a heart full of Jesus and a passion that each person she had contact with would too. She loved Jesus and she loved people.

And when one of us is gone
And one of us is left to carry on
Then remembering will have to do
Our memories alone will get us through
Think about the days of me and you
You and me against the world

I love you Mom.

*Originally posted May 10, 2014

You’re Ready. I’m Not

I can’t lie, this has been one of the harder posts for me to write. 18 years. It went by way too fast. Wasn’t I just watching Barney more times than I can count? Weren’t we just rushing out the door because “Clifford The Big Red Dog” was on TV meaning we were late to the sitters because mom left me in charge of getting you ready? I swear we just moved you from the crib to the car bed that seemed way too big at the time. Yet here we are. 18 years. Gone in a blink.

The first born son. The carrier of my middle name. In so many ways, we’ve grown up together you and I. I’ve learned to be a dad and more than once had to ask your forgiveness because I’m new at this parenting thing too. From the car seat to the booster, back seat to the front seat, the conversations we’ve had and the places we’ve gone. So many memories. So many miles.

I’ve often heard it said that you’re supposed to be a parent to your child and not their best friend. I would argue that maybe, just maybe, you can be both. While you’ve always respected the authority, I have cherished our relationship. Sports, texts, decisions big and small. I’m so thankful I was given this opportunity.

I told you last year that you would love seventeen. By all accounts you have. Just one week ago, you announced the first of so many adult decisions you will make now. I hope all of the times you stood by my side you caught more than I taught. I hope all of the twists and turns, lessons and moments have created a foundation and place to launch from. As is always the case, I give your mom 99.9% of the credit for who you are, whose you are and what you’ve become.

Today marks a major milestone. You’re ready to leave your mark, cast your shadow and be your own person. Eighteen years of being ours has prepared you to be what you will be from this time forward. This world, no matter how crazy it can be, is full of opportunities.

Our job was to raise you. We are here to give you all of the tools, wisdom and instruction for adulthood. I think this post was hard to write because I’d like more time. It went too fast. Feelings and emotions aside, this much is clear….

You’re ready.

I’m not.

Happy 18th Birthday Austin.

Love, Dad.

 

Full Circle

I was never and will never be the smartest guy in the room. I got a 13 on my ACT. Truth be told, I didn’t know or care the importance of this test I had to take. I didn’t visit colleges, take a big tour or get recruited for a sport. My parents weren’t even 100% sure I would go to college. Classes and tests were never quite my thing. I applied to Mount Vernon Nazarene College (now University) because my sister went there. I attended MVNC (now U) because they accepted me. No big drama. No cool story. 13 on the ACT and an acceptance letter.

When I walked that campus, I never imagined one day I’d return as the father of a student there. Nope. Not once. On September 28th, 2018 that all changed.

https://twitter.com/austinaconrad/status/1045741239365251073

And with one tweet, the course of the next four year is decided. The road ahead is unknown but the starting point is not. All of the games, trips, hotels, teammates, practices, wins and losses have led to this one decision.

And it didn’t come lightly.

We began this summer with a quick change of plans on what team “FiveO” would play for. Originally scheduled to roll with his team of friends from the year before, an unexpected phone call and invitation suddenly placed him on the big stage with another team in the same organization. 6 of his new teammates were already committed to Division I colleges to play baseball. Several others would begin being courted our very first weekend of games. We were in uncharted waters and waiting for his number to be called too.

But the calls didn’t come immediately.

Throughout the summer, a few Universities would be in touch. They would watch him pitch. One would go silent and another one would emerge. It became a roller coaster of “what if” and “what about” different locations, mascots and logos. Nothing ever too serious. No baseball offers. Throughout the process, as is his nature, “Five-O” stayed humble and quiet (he gets that from his mama).

Getting passed by can feel like a great injury. But it’s not. It’s people like us who can be secretly incredible and get the most done. That’s the way Jesus’ reverse economy works. God loves the humble ones, and the humble ones often don’t make it as first-round draft picks for the jobs with big titles or positions. But they always seem to be the first-round picks for God when He’s looking for someone to use in a big way.

-Bob Goff (Love Does)

Then one day we heard that MVNU had been at one of his teams games and asked when he was scheduled to pitch. The life of a “Pitcher Only” means you show up for your game and hang around for others if you feel like it. We weren’t there that day so we missed them. Then at another one of his starts, a familiar Coach from my days at “The Naz” walked by. Interestingly enough, there was another competing University there that day too. That was the one we thought was beginning to really become an option. After the game Coach Veale from MVNU said “we’ll have to have you up sometime this Fall.”

The summer continued on with other texts from coaches, showcases and scouts. When it all came to a close our next course of action was to begin “official visits.” By now our list had been trimmed down to those that continued to show an active interest. We set the dates and hit the road. Just mom, dad and “the boy.” Like back when he was the only child 17 years ago. We enjoyed the visits. Never too high, never too low. I compared it to buying a home. Did it have everything you were looking for? How was the location? Is this where you want to put down roots? We started a list to rank a 20 or so different things about each one.

I’ve never purchased a wedding dress (that would be awkward) but I’ve heard you often purchase the first one you find. I also know that, like purchasing a home, when you see “the one” you will know. Our first official visit was to none other than that same University that accepted me and my 13 ACT. The campus that built me. I learned so much more than what they taught in the classroom. I made forever brothers and friends. Those friends became the guys in my wedding and I in theirs. I also lost two of those friends to an auto accident our senior year. So many memories on a visit that should have been all about “Five-O.” After the visit we went to Chipotle. It was odd. We didn’t know if we should be excited, upset, happy or frustrated. We just knew that there was a fit. I was surprised just how perfect the fit might actually be.

The visits continued but all roads appeared to lead to MVNU. While we enjoyed each campus, there was always a “but.” Then it happened, we found another University that we all loved. It was like that house you find that has it all but you know the bank will never approve a loan that high. You try to convince yourself you’ll never eat another meal and sell whatever you have but deep down you too worry about how you’ll cover the costs. You ignore these thoughts and even begin to talk as if you’ve found the one. After a prospect day, we even went to the bookstore to buy some gear since we thought we would some how “figure out how to pay for this place.” I commented “this is the first of many dollars we’ll spend here.” Now we just had to wait and see what the Government thinks we could afford (FAFSA form).

Before we could officially make any announcements, there was one more visit on the calendar. “FiveO” was invited to attend a prospect day at MVNU on our original visit. We loaded the car to go back where it all started (for me and for him). As we drove off I said “this is where the road ends. One last trip.” I don’t think we ever knew how the rest of that day would unfold. He did what he does on the mound. He pitched first and did well. From the dugout he sent me a text a few minutes later…..

“We can probably go now.”

I thought about it because I didn’t properly dress for the autumn weather but then said “we paid for it, we might as well stay for lunch.” Once the other players had finished their workout we all gathered and headed towards the familiar cafeteria I spent so many days in. We got our meals and one of the players waved us over to a table where several players were already eating. What happened the next 45 minutes was like going back in time to the days when I sat in that cafeteria laughing, eating and cutting up with all of my friends. I watched as he was more at home than I had seen him on any visit. He laughed. He talked (which is a lot if you know him well).

Something was changing.

After a group presentation from the coach, we decided to go by his office. This was just as a courtesy and follow-up. Each recruiting trip was an opportunity to teach about how to handle yourself as an adult. On the way, we talked through what his approach with the coach should be. This wasn’t a scheduled meeting. Remember, we nearly left a few hours earlier. It was just a chance to shake a hand, thank them for their time and give an update on our plans (we were going to wait on the FAFSA). That’s when the coach said the words….

“We would like to offer you a scholarship to come play baseball at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.”

What happened after that is still a bit of a blur. We didn’t go in expecting anything more than a handshake and an update on our visits. We were just offered a generous scholarship that completely changed the narrative. After leaving his office, all I could do was pat my son on the back and say “Congratulations, you’ve earned it!” On the way home we talked through a few things but I didn’t want to begin to fill his head. This was his decision, not mine. This next 4 years will be where he decides to spend them. All I could tell him that this might be the first of a lifetime of adult decisions he needs to make. Gather your data. Pray. Think about scenarios. Pray some more. Make your decision and never look back.

I began this post with a brief history of how I landed at MVNU. There are enough stories of my time there to fill many, many more blog posts. This isn’t about me though. Today is about “Five-O.” Today is about years of uniforms, tryouts, workouts, dugouts, groundouts and strikeouts. Today is about wins, losses, giving up a bunch of runs and no-hitters. He’s done it all. All of the work. All of the sweat. I just got to be his biggest fan along the way.

This decision was hard. There are 3 other coaches that wanted him as a part of their team. They saw value in him. One in particular, is a well known leader of men. He is respected between the lines, outside the lines and in our home. He is also the coach at that other University that we all loved, making it even tougher to decide. In the end, every door was open at MVNU. It became too obvious to deny. This is where God was leading him all along.

What began in that coaches office a few months ago came full circle today. The same University that built me, shaped me and taught me so much will now do the same for him. In August he will head to his new home for the next 4 years. He will earn a degree (if all goes well, a Masters in 4 years) and make lifelong friends. He’ll put on the uniform and compete like he always has.

And I’ll always be his biggest fan.

Wide Open Spaces

I had the benefit of being the second child. Parents, you know what I mean. My sister was the first and therefore, had the added protection that every parent places on their first born. By the time the second child comes along, I don’t want to say parents stop caring, they have just learned to relax the rules a bit.

When it came to riding our bikes, my sister had limits placed on her adventures. I don’t remember the number now, but there was a certain number of sidewalk tiles that she was allowed to travel. Once I started riding my bike, I was allowed to pretty much rule and reign over Woodrow Avenue in Bedford, Ohio. I made ramps. I attempted wheelies. I traveled to friends houses and the playground. This kind of freedom came with mistakes too. I once had a horrible wreck the day before school pictures. Not good. Not good at all.

“She needed wide open spaces. Room to make a big mistake.” – The Dixie Chicks

Our teams are no different

I just quoted the Dixie Chicks because they said it best. When we lead a team, they need to have wide open spaces. They need room to be creative and innovative and feel the energy gained from both. Our job as leaders (and parents) is to set the parameters. Communicate the non-negotiables. Cast the vision and “let that pony run!”

One of the worst things we can do is create a culture of “no” and limit the amount of sidewalk spaces they can travel with their creativity. This doesn’t mean you agree with every idea. It also means you’re giving them room to make a big mistake. Sometimes they will.

This is where you can shape and architect the thought into so much more.

I spent a portion my day meeting with 2 of our team members. We were discussing some new programs we’re getting ready to launch. Together we wrestled with every angle of the opportunity. We had some ideas but not quite what we were looking for yet.

One of the two called me a little while ago so excited he could barely contain himself. It turns out they continued the conversation after I left. Together they had created a new idea that brought it all together. With the vision in mind and the non-negotiables in place, they let their creativity take off. I loved their new idea. I appreciated their creativity even more.

They just needed wide open spaces.

I Won’t Forget

This image. Of all the images of 9/11 that are out there (professional and our own), this is the one I’ll never forget. I was a new dad. He was just weeks away from his first birthday. Those eyes. The innocence. What kind of world would we raise him in now? Everything was about to change.

For awhile it did.

We were just getting familiar with “high speed” internet. Social media and the keyboards we hide behind didn’t exist yet. Our cell phones were dumb. Our TV’s were fat and we were all maybe a little thinner.

Not long after this picture was taken, I grabbed a dust covered bible and walked out to the deck at the first house my wife and I built. Not having a clue where to start, I opened up to psalms and began to read.

There were no planes in the sky. There was a slight breeze and I remember it like it was yesterday. I didn’t sleep well that night. The fear of protecting my wife and my small boy kept me up most of the night.

This year that little boy walks across a platform to receive a High School Diploma. Next year at this time he’ll be in his first week of his freshman year at a yet-to-be-determined University. I still can’t sleep some nights wondering how I can protect my wife and now three children.

Because our TV’s are thinner and we’re all a little bigger. Our cellphones are smart now and we hide behind keyboards on social media and say horrible things to one another. Actually, we don’t even hide behind keyboards anymore. Now we shout our beliefs so loud that our targets can’t even hear us.

And I think back to this picture

And the world we’ll raise him in.

And I won’t forget how for a moment we all pressed pause…..

To love our neighbor as ourselves. To open doors and show kindness. To hold those we love a little bit tighter.

The world changed that day.

And I won’t forget.