Friday, August 18th was my last day as the Volunteer and Religious Services Coordinator at the Idaho Correctional Institution – Orofino.
I am moving on to serve as a paraprofessional at the Jr/Sr High School in Cottonwood, Idaho, where I will tutor Special Ed students in math and english. The biggest reason to make the move is to gain more time with my family on a day-to-day basis. I’ll get holidays and summers off, so I’ll be able to develop my creative projects, too, and possibly continue my education.
That’s what I enjoy so much about change. It’s a doorway to opportunities.
I had a very rare opportunity to share my heart with some of the inmates before I left. Some volunteers from Toastmasters, a public speaking and leadership organization, have started a club in our prison, so I have been involved with them while they get started. All the guys wanted me to give my Ice Breaker speech before I left, so that’s the last thing I did in prison.
I was humbled by the grateful response I received from my speech (which went WAY over the time limit). And I’m thankful that it resonated so well with the men, because it truly is my heart’s message for them.
It was also a good chance to look back at what I have learned on this journey, so I thought I would share it here, too. My farewell address…
3 Secrets to Life I Learned from Foosball
When I was a kid, growing up in the hills of south-central California, my best friend had a foosball table. Anyone here play foosball? One of our favorite things to do was team up and challenge his dad to game, and every time his dad would royally destroy us!
One day, we asked his dad how he kept winning. How could he always beat us, even though we played two against one? He told us two things: don’t spin, and keep one hand on the goalie.
When I was 12 years old, my family moved up to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho which is where I did High School. During those years I played foosball all the time at church, and I was untouchable because I didn’t spin and I kept one hand on the goalie.
After high school, I moved down to Georgia to live with my father and go to college. One night, in a fevered dream, I realized that those two rules I learned from my friend’s dad were actually the first two secrets to life. I was yet to learn the third.
My fellow Toastmasters, tonight I would like to share with you a little bit about myself and how I discovered the three secrets to life in a game of foosball.
The first rule is: Don’t spin.
Those of you who play foosball know what I’m talking about. Everyone thinks spinning is a power move, but it isn’t. It’s really a chaotic move. When the game really gets going it’s inevitable that you’ll see someone get caught up in the moment and they’ll let fly with a mighty spin. Their hand goes whooshing into the air and the ball cracks off the side of the table, but the problem is that no one knows where the ball is going next, and you’ve just taken your hand off the handle controlling your players. So you have no way to respond to the ball or your opponent. You’re out of control!
So often, this is how we play at life when the action gets hot. We respond with powerful, chaotic moves that leave us like the little foosball guys: exhausted, worn out, and with a screw loose.
I remember when my life became chaos.
At 27 years old I found myself back in Coeur d’Alene, married to my high school sweetheart, running a painting business, and dreaming of traveling the world serving missionaries with video communications (yeah, this was before YouTube). I was full of hopeful vision, and I was trying to make meaningful decision that would connect all the dots from my high school days, decisions that would shape the rest of my life.
But then everything fell apart. My high school sweetheart walked out of a four year marriage two days after my birthday. Eleven sordid months later I was diagnosed with stage three cancer.
It was lymphoma. Your lymph system is spread throughout your entire body like your nervous system, and it’s the final filtering system in your body that cleans you up after you’ve been sick. Except now it was my lymph system that was sick, and the doc was telling me that if I didn’t get chemotherapy yesterday, I was a dead man walking. I actually contemplated not taking treatments. How easy…
The irony was that the cancer had been growing in my body for the previous three years at least. The only symptom I had was a growing pain in my lower back that flared up more and more often. It turned out to be a softball size tumor, but I thought it was just a dietary thing. So I’d eat less sugar, less caffeine, more vegetables and fiber. You know the drill. Cancer never crossed my mind. I was only 27!
All those years I was striving and planning for the rest of my life…I was dying the whole time.
Two choices were before me, the only two choices we really have in life. Love or Fear. To choose Fear was to choose anger and resentment, and it’s end is Death. But to choose Love was to choose hope and courage, and it is the way of life.
I chose life. I took the treatments, I beat cancer, and I met someone new.
Death and Life were tattooed on her wrists. But I always thought “Death” looked liked “Peach”, and that made her smile. Life is a peach, and she had tasted its bitter core. She’d hitched from Colorado to the Florida Keys, a Gypsy Queen in my eyes. She was two and half years sober, half way to becoming a traveling nurse, and I didn’t know any better. Her relapse caught me by surprise.
They asked me why I wanted to date an addict, but I couldn’t tell them anything more than, “This is love as I know it.” Love that takes the deepest, darkest, dirtiest part of a person and says, “I’ll own it. I’ll help you carry this until it is no more.” It was a love I’d known and needed desperately to know again.
Because Love is my goalie.
When you keep one hand on the goalie, you’re one step ahead of the game. When your opponent tries to score, you’re already there. When someone else spins, you’re ready to respond.
The secret is to figure out what your goalie is. Not who your goalie is, or where your goalie is, but what your goalie is. See, you are not in control of other people, so your goalie cannot be a who. Neither are you in control of your circumstance, so your goalie cannot be out there somewhere. You are only in control of your own thoughts and actions, so your goalie has to be that central, core belief that guides you.
My goalie is Love, so I decided to walk through recovery with my friend.
From hospital rooms to AA meetings, Gratitude Banquets to Speaker Meetings, I learned rigorous honesty, gratitude, and what discipleship really looks like. I learned that addiction is a symptom of a disease we all share, that the key to recovery is community, and that fellowship heals. I learned that the secret to life is to stop taking and start giving. And I realized that I would never really be alive again until I started living this out.
Which is why I knew that taking the job as a Volunteer and Religious Services Coordinator for 3 Oaks Ministries was the right next step for me, even though it meant saying goodbye to my dear friend. Her path of recovery led a different way, but she walks it faithfully even today.
My path led me to serve 3 Oaks Ministries as the Volunteer Coordinator for two different prison facilities, working closely with men in recovery. It also led me to Spain, where I hiked the 500 mile pilgrimage route known as El Camino de Santiago.
I had visions of my travel blog filling up with stories of my pilgrimage across Spain, starting riveting conversations about travel and the spiritual journey, and launching me into the world of travel writing. I was going to be adventurous, location independent, and free from prison!
But none of that happened.
Instead, I came home from Spain and settled back into my job at the prison. I married my new girlfriend, became a father, and started a local hiking club. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t given up on my dreams. I still love to travel and write.
I’m just playing the game in front of me.
And that’s the third secret to life that foosball taught me. Play the game in front of you. Be here now.
When Life spins chaotically, play the game in front of you. When that person you’re not in control of lets you down, play the game in front of you. When those circumstances you’re not in control of change, play the game in front of you.
There is nothing this life can do to you, or that you can do to yourself, that God cannot resurrect you from. So play the game in front of you. Play it with rigorous honesty and gratitude. Play it with integrity and nobility. Play it to win.
In this cosmic game of foosball, you score every time you choose love over fear. Every time you accept someone into your recovery meeting even though they’re strung out. Every time you give rather than take. Every time you seek a new beginning by giving someone else a second chance. Every time you choose life over death you win.
Keep one hand on the goalie.
Play the game that’s in front of you.
And remember, goalie shots are worth two points!
Thank you, and good night.