Chapter 30 – Blown Calls

adam-dunn-first-baseFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, jail and victory.

While having breakfast with my friend Bill Harris, a high school and college official, Bill related an incident in a high school football game in which the side judge on his crew made an obvious bad call that appeared to cost the game.  As soon as the game ended, Bill made a beeline to the losing coach to apologize for the blown call. What happened next sounded familiar. Instead of being met with a furious coach, he found a man who was both gracious and responsible. The coach listened to Bill’s apology; then he looked directly into his eyes and said, “Bill, as bad as that call was, and it was horrible, it did not cost us the game. We lost because we did not play well enough to win. We had numerous opportunities, but we did not take advantage of them. We only have ourselves to blame. But thank you anyway”.

Over the last several years, particularly as I worked on the manuscript for this book, I came to that very same conclusion regarding my life.  At some point along my journey to healing, I realized that the actions of the Robinsons in 2005, as painful as they were, they did not do me in or cost me my church.  On the contrary, just like that football team, I did not play very well.  That is the bottom line to the events revolving around the split of Highland Park Church. Just like that nameless high school football team’s inability to take advantage of opportunities hurt their loyal fans, my repeated failures to lead hurt scores of people who had looked to me to be their leader and to protect their interests as far as the church was concerned.

As much as I would prefer to blame this person or that person that would not be the responsible thing to do any more than had the coach blaming Bill’s side judge. It would be opportunistic and dishonest. According to the coach, his team had ample opportunities to win the ball game. So did I.  Coming to that conclusion, while humbling and hurting in a different kind of way, has been enormously freeing for me. Hopefully, it has made me a better person and a more effective leader. I pray that is the case.  In life we daily come nose to nose with choices that will either free us or bind us. Our default settings tend to be tilted more toward instinctively choosing the ones that bind us rather than those that guide us along the path to liberty.  I expect that we make those wrong choices in a futile effort to prevent our pride from taking one more self-inflected hit. I mean who of us wants to look in the mirror and say “My bad”? Nobody! As a general rule, we will do almost anything rather than face that inescapable fact of life. Since we all intuitively know that nobody is always right and with a track record of mistakes following us around like a whipped puppy, then why do we insist on living like it?

Many years ago for some inexplicable reason Mike Tyson bit a chunk out of an opponent’s ear.  Years later, Tyson said that “At the time it seemed like the thing to do”. That is a typical response.  After my emotional breakdown and during my subsequent treatment at Sierra Tucson in the fall of 2005, I was numb, hurt, bewildered and at one point most likely suicidal. All I could see and feel during those lonely and painful fall days in the Arizona desert, was that single “game costing call” made against me by Dale Robinson and family.  From my skewed worldview at that time, I blamed the Robinsons’ power grab for what I perceived as the loss of the church, my reputation and my future. What I did not realize at the time was that my nearly life-long codependency issues were the true culprits – not a single act of betrayal for gain.  With 20/20 hindsight I see ever so clearly that my game plan for life was fatally flawed since childhood. For a multitude of reasons, most of my life was spent living in the dark chasms of shame, guilt and a feeling of being less than.  I have a vague recollection of my mom telling me that she had always thought that she (therefore “I”) somehow did not measure up to other people. I felt that way most of my life. Thankfully, I no longer do, but that metamorphosis took a great deal of work over a great deal of time with help from a great deal of loving people.

In the spring of 2011 both Bruce Pearl, head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee and Jim Tressel, head football coach at Ohio State University were fired. Not so much because they broke the rules, which they certainly did, but because they chose to lie about it. Congressman Anthony Weiner sent inappropriate text messages to several young women. When caught he denied his guilt, but later came clean and resigned.  Atlanta mega-church “star”, Bishop Eddie Long, who initially denied his guilt, made an out of court settlement with several young men who had accused him of sexually abusing them. The common thread running through the shattered careers of each of those men is that they initially lied rather than facing the truth. According to the Bible, pride always comes before the fall.

Fortunately not everybody chooses that route. In the 2010 Masters’ Golf Tournament Rory McIlroy went into the final round with a four shot lead. That Sunday afternoon, with millions watching worldwide, he had what has been call the most gigantic meltdown in the history of professional golf. He completely fell apart on the back nine shooting an 80 for the day and blowing his opportunity to win the coveted green jacket. In contrast to some other recent meltdowns, Rory’s disintegration did not include any club throwing or swearing. After the tournament, instead of being unavailable for comment or curt with the media, he faced the press answering their questions humbly, fully and without spin. That day Rory Mcllroy made a critical choice as to how he would respond to adversity. It has served him well. Nine weeks later, as the crowds chanted “Ro—ry, Ro—ry”, McIlroy won the U.S. Open by a record 16 strokes while breaking multiple other records. A few days later, a tribute ad in the “USA Today”, sponsored by Oakley Incorporated, carried a full page picture of Rory with the caption, “Own your defeats and you will be defined by your victories”. That is a caption that I have come to find true personally. It is a universal truth. It has been my observation that people who do not come to that personal conclusion are victors only in their own imaginations.

Because of our fallen natures, the human species when faced with potential hits to its pride, will often make some very poor choices. A few folks like to bite ears; others of us simply lie — to ourselves or others and sometimes to both. Sensing pain, our rationalizing machines go haywire, which usually equates to “It isn’t my fault” which plays out in, “I did not know my quarterback was accepting free tattoos”. “I did not illegally recruit that player”. “I did not send that picture”. “I did not cause this personal disaster in my life”. “I am not to blame!” Passing the buck has been around as long as mankind. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis 3, Eve blamed the snake. Adam blamed Eve and we have all been blaming somebody or something ever since. I expect God sees through that nonsense and just shakes His head in near perpetual disappointment.

Several months ago, early one morning as I was turning into McDonald’s, a guy, who was talking on his cell, came barreling out of the parking lot into my lane of traffic nearly causing a collision. What did he do then? He gave me the finger while yelling obscenities at me! How we do like to blame others for our failures! The truth is blaming has never worked. It did not work for Adam, Eve, me, you or anybody else and it never will. What does work is personal responsibility.  I deal with folks all the time, and in fact have been one of them, who seem to think that because this or that happened or did not happen some place in their lives, then they are forever obliged to live life tethered to that event. Take my word for it; that is lousy logic.

One of the greatest flaws and certainly one of the most costly of my life has been that of being a people pleaser. I am not talking about being a nice guy. God designed us to be nice. We should all be nice guys and gals. Hopefully, both you and I are. But none of us should be people pleasers. By “people pleasing” I am talking about a toxic addition to approval that routinely results in compromising your life, your values, or your very being. I mentioned this “threesome” elsewhere in this book; yet, it is critically important in order to fully understand my journey to wholeness.  During our earlier days at Highland Park Church, I subconsciously chose three people as the litmus tests of the worth of my Sunday messages — my wife Cathy, Dale Robinson and his mom Thelma.  I know why I chose Cathy and Dale, but I am not quite sure how Thelma got in the mix. Each Sunday, ten, twenty, a hundred other people could praise the message, but unless one of those three said, “that a boy” I felt like I had struck out. That is a precarious way to travel through life because you surrender your serenity to someone else.  It is also quite a selfish way to live. They had lives of their own to live; they did not know they were the “anointed ones” and that I was waiting for them to run to me with their personal fist bumps.  The more I grew in my confidence in my teaching ability and as I got deeper into recovery, the less important their affirmation became. Now, that I am well, I fully realize that I put myself in an untenable position and created a great deal of self-imposed misery. However, that is what happens to people who are unable to internally validate themselves. We reach outside ourselves. Whenever we add another layer to anything in life, whether it is baking a cake or looking for our self-worth, the potential for problems rises exponentially.  But as Iron Mike said, it made perfect sense at the time.

Until my time at Sierra Tucson, in my quest for approval, true to my discharge diagnosis, I would routinely say “Yes” to nearly any and all requests both personal and professional and then spend countless hours kicking myself in the butt asking, “What was I thinking?  Why did I make that commitment? Why am I letting that person control me? But that is the life path that people pleasers seem to willfully choose to trudge. They constantly tote around the white flag of surrender, because as approval addicts, they have been unable to develop any sense of self-worth from within. I never considered myself a doormat, but looking back I do see that I allowed some folks to walk right over me on their way to whatever they were looking to find. We are all looking for something! More often than not, because of our personal life experiences, our searches are flawed. That realization has helped me, perhaps more than any other, to move a bit closer to becoming the kind of forgiving individual that God calls us to be. That is why I wrote these words in the introduction many months ago. “This is a narrative about shame and guilt, success and failure, love and betrayal, friendship and envy, pride and humility, but mostly about a group of imperfect people doing what imperfect people always do.”

Life is like a card game. We are all dealt a hand. We can play that hand or throw down some cards. I have now thrown some down. One of the huge differences in my life today is that I can enjoy doing absolutely nothing. One of my favorite things is to spend time at our farm listening to the birds chirp and the water babbling in the creek. I can spend hours by the creek just soaking in God’s goodness, majesty and His unfailing love. Perhaps, I am just getting old, but I think my internal peace is a result of recognizing and working through my self-defeating behaviors to the point of accepting myself just as I am.  When you think you are not enough, you never are and when you know that you are, you realize that you are plenty.  The definition of plenty is “a sufficient supply”. That is the point along the time-line of life’s continuum where you become OK with who you are you. You also realize that the blown call was just that – a bad call, but not a defining call. That is a critical point in your journey to wholeness.

We have lost that wonderful building on Knob Hill that so many folks sacrificed greatly to build, surrounded by sixty-six acres of pristine middle Tennessee forests. I will never talk to God in solitude silence from that great auditorium as I watch the doe and her fawns grazing.  But I have the memories of the ride from the night six friends ate a Poppa John’s Pizza and started a church to this moment of time. A moment where I am enough just as I am, where there are no secrets and as odd as it may sound I find myself at the apex of my ministry and life. God is so good! Cathy and I are intact. We are whole and we are strong and we a fulfilled.

Next Up: A Dog Named Limp

For the complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory.

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