Tuesday, December 22, 2009


When I was in the second grade, I memorized the first 20 verses of the second chapter of Luke and recited it before the class to win a prize. I think the prize was a bunch of Santa Claus pencils and a few pieces of candy. It’s been more than 40 years since that day, so I cannot be expected to remember that detail.
Now, all these years later, I realize that, like so many other things in life, the real prize was what I learned. In fact, to this day, I can recite the 349 words of the passage, although I will confess that I get stuck a few places and have to cheat a little.
One of the things that I’ve always wondered about is how the shepherds found the baby Jesus to begin with. All they were told is, “Ye shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’’
Even though Bethlehem was not a big town, they didn’t really have much to go on. It would be the equivalent of trying to find a single family in a whole subdivision.
Although the account of the Magi is found in Matthew rather than the passage I committed to memory all those long years ago, a similar conundrum arises. According to Matthew, the Magi located the Christ child by following a star, which came to rest above the town of Bethlehem. Again, it seems like pretty vague directions. I cannot imagine you would be able to figure out a specific residence based on the position of a star. It occurs to me that the star of Bethlehem was the first known use of a GPS system, although not a very precise model.
Those curiosities aside, the important fact is that both the shepherds and the Magi found the Christ child.
I think it is interesting to note that, in the accounts of the Nativity, it is just as important to note not only who found the baby Jesus, but who didn’t. That would be Herod, who sought the child with as much zeal as the shepherds or the Magi but with far different motives.
Ever since, people have been looking for him and the success or failure of those efforts, I believe, rests on the intent of the seeker.
This reminds me of when my two kids were little. One of their favorite games to play with Dad was hide-and-seek.
I was always careful to hide in such a way that I could be easily found, of course. Getting “found’’ was the fun part of the game, after all.
So I would hide behind the curtains with my shoes sticking out prominently underneath, maybe rustling the curtains a bit for good measure.
When they found me I would feign shock. “How did you find me?’’ I would ask in mock frustration, and they would laugh and shout and demand that I hide once more so they could find me all over again.
I have a feeling it’s the same way with God. He is easy to find, only because he wants to be found. I am sure His heart bursts with loving affection when his children find him, for the joy it produces.
For those who have sought and found him, Christmas is always a time that we find in our spirits the irrepressible urge to “find him all over again.’’
“Seek and ye shall find,’’ Jesus once said.
So, with the chaos and confusion and the frenzy that generally goes with Christmas, I hope that you will find the opportunity to play the game that fathers love to play with their children.
He’ll be easy to find, of course.
He always has been.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Me & Bobby Bowden

The plaudits that are now pouring in for Bobby Bowden in the wake of Monday’s announcement that he is resigning as the Florida State head coach come from every quarter – from Hall of Fame players and coaches and luminaries of every ilk, many well outside the arena of college football.
It would be the height of arrogance to expect that he would pay any particular attention to my compliments, of course.
But then a memory stirs of my first meeting with the legendary coach and I pause to think that my words of congratulations might indeed carry a weight beyond all proportion to my status.
It was early August of 1989 and the Seminoles were well into preparations for the season when I made arrangements to visit campus to do a story on a freshman player on the Seminoles’ roster.
At that time, I was a sports writer at the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun Herald and had been sent to Tallahassee to do a story on Terrell Buckley, who had been a star player on the Pascagoula High state title team of 1987.
Although Buckley was a prized prospect and would go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award at FSU in a few years, the Seminoles were such a power that little time or attention was wasted on a raw rookie.
Of course, Buckley was still a luminous star in his hometown, which is why I was dispatched to Tallahassee. Florida State was, at that time, just coming into its glory under Bowden. In fact, the ensuing decade would bring two national championships to the school, cementing Bowden’s status as a college football legend.
Mindful of the status of both the FSU program and its famous coach and equally mindful that I was just a small-town newspaper reporter doing a story on a player who wouldn’t sniff the field that season, I was hopeful that I might get two or three minutes of Bowden’s time, perhaps out by the practice field or between meetings. I was nervous. I figured I had better be ready to get the most I could in a small amount of time.
But when I arrived, I was stunned to find myself being ushered into Bowden’s office. There he was, rising up from his big desk and moving quickly toward me, thrusting out his hand and smiling broadly.
“Hello, Hello!’’ he said, pumping my hand as if I were a dear friend he hadn’t seen in ages. “How was your drive over? You thirsty?’’
Before I could answer, he was shouting out to his secretary, “Can you bring Slim here something to drink? What would you like? A Coke? Water? Boy, it’s good to see you! I appreciate you driving over! Here, please sit down!’’
This was not the reception I had anticipated.
After ushering me into a comfortable chair across from his desk, Bowden sank into his big chair, leaned back and asked what he could do for me. He seemed relaxed, like he had all the time in the world and that my arrival was a pleasing respite from his busy day.
I explained the purpose of my visit and Bowden went into another long soliloquy about what a great kid Terrell Buckley was, what a wonderful town Pascagoula was, what great coaching he had, what a wonderful mama he had, etc., etc.
I had hoped for a few minutes. After a half-hour, I began to feel a bit guilty, even though there was nothing in Bowden’s demeanor to suggest that he wouldn’t have been content to talk all afternoon, maybe even delay practice to continue the discussion.
When I rose to leave, he thanked me again for coming. “You let me know if there’s anything else you need for your story, OK? Anything at all. Boy, it was sure good to meet you, Slim! You come back and see us, all right?’’
Monday, when Bowden stepped down after 44 years as a head coach, including 34 seasons at Florida State where he transformed FSU from a joke to a power, I remember that day 20 years ago when he treated a small-town sports writer as if he were the lead columnist for The New York Times.
One need only examine his won-loss record to recognize that Bowden was a great coach.
My testimony is that he was an even better man.
So congratulations, coach Bowden.
And thanks for the hospitality.