An Unconventional Ending

Matt GradYesterday our 18 year-old son took part in his “socially distanced” COVID 19 induced graduation ceremony. As a family, we walked into the school donning our masks and were greeted by various teachers and school administrators sporting their own face coverings who politely congratulated our son and offered directions on the process. The same school he had entered regularly for the past four years with his friends and classmates. The same school where he had surely experienced anguish and disappointments that were vastly outnumbered by the times of joy, fun, laughter, learning and fellowship. The same building where only months earlier we had watched with pride as he and his soccer teammates celebrated a State Championship with teachers, administrators, coaches and their peers. This building that had been a regular destination for hours upon hours of walking the halls and seeing the familiar faces of caring teachers and friends was eerily quiet and mostly vacant.

We watched as he opened a box with various items and proceeded to put on his Vice President sash and various chords and a medal celebrating his achievements. A school representative took a nice family photo and we entered the gymnasium. The gymnasium that on any other graduation day is over-flowing with teachers, families, friends and community members prepared to celebrate another group of outstanding young women and men was covered by absolute silence. His sisters and brother-in-law waited in the area that was designated for close family as my wife and I walked on the stage and met him to hand him his hard earned high school diploma as his name was announced and his principal and superintendent watched from a distance. They offered their congratulations and we exited the building, thus ending his high school graduation ceremony. An exercise repeated again and again by all of his nearly 200 classmates and their families.

After we arrived back home he perused the box of items he had been given full of past assignments that his wonderful teachers throughout the years had been kind and thoughtful enough to maintain and give to him so he could take a trip down memory lane. We all laughed as he read aloud some of the funny things he had written in elementary and middle school.

The next time I saw him was when I entered his room a little later to make sure he knew how proud I was of all he has accomplished. I went up the stairs and opened the door to his room and my heart sank. He was sitting there in his room, still fully cloaked in his graduation attire; the cap and gown his mother had so meticulously ironed covering the tie I had readied for him neatly around his neck, at the desk where he spent way too many late nights cramming for an exam, rushing to finish a paper or assignment he had procrastinated, or playing a video game with his incredible group of lifetime buddies. For one of the first times during this crisis that so rudely interrupted the spring of his senior year we noticed a look of real disappointment.  He mumbled how a lot of what was missed really stunk, but to not get to experience graduation with his friends and fellow classmates was the worst part.

I have heard many times about the importance of closure. That point in time when something that has become a very instrumental period in our life is complete. When this occurs we are told we need to experience, comprehend, and accept the finality of the specific time or event that up to that point has been a defining element of our life. Proper closure should include an honoring of all the accomplishments and a celebration of the period of transition as we let go of what is finished and move onward to something new.

It is an undeniable truth that high school graduation is one of the most important life-defining transitional events. The celebration serves as the gateway between youth and adulthood and is the very definition of what it takes to achieve closure. After yesterday, my heart aches for all of the high school seniors who are being denied the opportunity the rest of us enjoyed and were able to experience. We got the closure that allows one to proceed onward into the future. Having lived this makes me empathetic for all the parents of high school seniors who are likewise being deprived of the celebratory day that brings to close a child’s youth.

I’ve always wanted to be the person who “fixes” things for those I love so this experience has been painful, frustrating, and humbling. My fellow parents of 2020 graduates please know the pain you feel for your child and yourself is natural so don’t feel like you need to hold it in, it’s OK to let it out. Class of 2020 I salute you and offer up prayers for you as you venture out and into your next great adventure. You truly are a special group even if high school has an unconventional ending, allow it to make you appreciate each other even more when you gather again in the future!


What is Love?

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)

Yep, that’s the way Jesus intended it to work. As we love one another regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. we will be living examples of Jesus’ radical and life changing love. One big problem exists though; we are human. I shamefully have to admit that I have not come close to living this type of life.

That is probably the reason these photos of my sixteen year-old daughter from her Haiti mission trip with our church have set-off such deep and raw emotions inside of me. Her willingness to be “uncomfortable” so she can experience serving others has awakened me to how inadequate a self-serving life like mine can be. True joy comes from “doing” for others, not from satisfying our own desires.

Upon reflection, I think I have spent more time seeing love as something to receive than something to give. Honestly, and it pains me to admit, I have even used love as a manipulative means of “rewarding” others for the actions I desire.  Needless to say this is not true love and I am still a work in progress!

I am thankful that my kids get to experience being examples of love in a hurting world. I am thankful for a church of incredible servants who make such opportunities available for them to experience. I am thankful for Jesus who lived and died as an example of true love that comes from giving of ourselves to better others near and far.


Thank God!


Deuteronomy 8: 10-18 (NIV) When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Growing up I never really considered all my parents did for me and my siblings. With seven kids going in seven different directions they had to be worn out just trying to keep our schedules straight. Not to mention having to prepare meals, clean clothes, help with homework, etc. Upon reflection, it is amazing that we never doubted that all of our basic needs would be met without a complaint. Mom and Dad worked diligently to handle all these items and I am sure felt overworked and under-appreciated. Surely our parents did not receive anywhere near the gratitude from us that they deserved considering all they provided.

I liken the way I took our earthly parents for granted to the relationship we Christians have with God. Surely God does not receive a portion of the praise and worship He deserves from those of us for whom so much is provided. When you consider that every blessing we receive; beginning with life itself is a direct result of God’s intimate love for us it is surely true that we have all had times when we forget His investment in our lives. I know I have undoubtedly had times when I have taken for granted the ways God has blessed my life.

There is nothing about me that the God who created the universe should find to be of any redeeming value. You see, I know myself. I know the despicable level to which I am capable of descending. I know my thoughts; words and actions can be and have been disgusting in nature. My past is a persistent reminder of the sinful side of me that exists and desperately desires to control all I think, say and do.  My pride and selfishness rear their ugly heads again and again as I foolishly attempt to take credit for accomplishments that are only made possible because God “has my back”.

I do not deserve the life I am blessed to live, but thankfully we serve a God who is very loving and forgiving. He intercedes on our behalf due to this immeasurable love, mercy and grace to protect and provide for us in ways we can never measure. Even when we slip-up and allow sin to get us side-tracked, God is always there with the infinite love and forgiveness that only He can offer. So I say; “thank you God” for without you I am nothing and with you I have everything!

The Players Coached the Coach

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If you are like us, you end up living life from one sport’s season to the next. As the calendar is flipped from one month to another, and seasons pass, you find yourself in a continual state of having practices and games determine where and when you need to be places.

There are times when you are able to reflect that you realize how fast this express train called “life” is really moving. This is an important thing to do because if we are not careful the never-ending cycle of sport’s seasons can cause us to miss all the life that is happening in and around them. If I have learned anything it is that we need to be sure to enjoy these moments with our kids, their teammates/friends, and other parents because they are fleeting.

Yesterday, on the 3 hour drive home from yet another select soccer tournament, I was forced to face the fact of how fast time is racing past. As I spent time contemplating the way our son and his teammates had so successfully competed I was moved to tears when I realized a phase of our lives’ had come to an end.

You see, for the past eight (8) falls I have coached either my daughter’s and/or my son’s select soccer teams. The wonderful experiences that I enjoyed coaching my daughter and her friends ended two falls ago as they moved on to play high school soccer. Although it was difficult to let go of that team, knowing my son and his teammates have finished their final fall select season and are moving to high school next year really hit home. The way I have marked time for all of these late summers and falls has been taken from me and will not return.

I now realize how big a blessing I have been given for these past 8 years. I am so thankful my wonderful wife has been so supportive and willing to live with the many nights of practice/training that comes with being the spouse of the volunteer coach. I am so thankful for wonderful assistants who gave their time to help. I am thankful for incredible parents who have always been there to provide backup. I am thankful for all the wonderful kids who dedicated themselves to working hard and giving their all for the betterment of the group. I am thankful that God let me be the Dad of two wonderful kids who have been joys to coach even when they knew their “coach” would be tougher on them just because he was their father.

I started coaching hoping to make a difference and discovered the kids I was fortunate enough to coach made a difference in me. I have learned that kids are resilient and positive by nature. I have learned that they intuitively know how to handle success and defeat with dignity. I have learned far more from all of them individually and as a group than I could have ever taught. The seasons have flown by and I am going to miss them, but I will not forget the “coaching” these kids have given me.

57 Years and Counting

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Sunday, November 1, 2015 will mark my parents’ 57th Wedding Anniversary. In my mind 57 years, 7 kids, 15 grandkids are definitely BIG lifetime moments worthy of a celebration! The two of them have been living examples of the meaning of the phrase “till death do we part”. At this point it is safe to say that they took their wedding vows very seriously.

There are outward and easily observable fruits of their years together living sacrificial lives. The true story worthy of awe and reverence that is their marriage though can only be known by fully understanding the lengths to which they have given of themselves for the past 57 years for the betterment of others.

You see, raising seven (7) kids is not an easy task in and of itself. Doing it with little money/financial resources and making sure we all graduated from college and beyond requires a lot of sacrifice. When you add the hours of volunteering to coach Little League, be on the community emergency squad, chair booster clubs, lead scouting organizations, care for the neighboring elderly, chair PTOs/PTAs, organize alumni banquets, etc. you end up with a lifetime of giving that greatly enhances the lives of others.

So I proudly raise a glass to my parents, Paul and Wilma Hinkle! Thanks for being living examples of what “doing the next right thing” looks like. Thanks for living sacrificially so the 7 of us could move our lives forward. Thanks for the blessing that is your marriage; I love you!

She loses…and I win


I have to admit that I love watching my kids compete in athletics. There is a certain joy that accompanies seeing them care about something so much that they are willing to sacrifice and work for the goals of a team above self. I admire them for caring enough for their teammates and coaches that they do not want to “let them down”.

I have a strong belief that when done correctly competitive sports help build a person’s character. Learning to compete while knowing that when the horn/buzzer is sounded to end the game/match there will be a winner and a loser is one of the greatest lessons available. I am not a proponent of the “everyone is a winner” philosophy that is far to common in today’s world of youth sports. I want my children to learn to compete, and to do so fairly. I want them to feel the exhilaration that comes from earning a hard-fought victory. I want them to learn to be humble in victory knowing the competition also worked hard to win because it matters.

What this means though, is that they will also need to learn how to lose. They will feel the sting of knowing they were “out-done” and beaten by the competition. Inevitably, this means they will have to deal with at times feeling like they let others down. That is just the nature of competition in sports and life.

As a parent, this part hurts! As I said, I love that they care so deeply, but when that inner disappointment leads to tears it can rip a parents’ heart out. Although it is part of the total package; seeing the pain on their face after a tough loss is not something with which I can ever become comfortable.

So that’s where we found ourselves last night. My daughter’s high school soccer team lost a hard fought game which ended their season. As she walked slowly off the pitch for the last time this season the disappointment she and her teammates felt was obvious. The tears in her eyes as she approached her mother and me were ample evidence of her pain (especially for a kid who refuses to cry). Her mumbled mentions of how she felt she let her team down were proof that she “gets it” and that being someone others can depend on matters to her. All of this culminated in a Dad trying to hold back tears as he was being torn-up inside.

That’s when the BEST thing happened and I became the winner! All of this pain culminated in our daughter hugging me and holding me tight while she wept. (Please understand she is NOT a hugger) This wonderful moment brought me back to another big loss that kept her team from making the AAU Basketball Final Four a few years ago. In the painful moments after that loss, just like last night, my kid wanted a hug from her Dad! So I am thankful that they get to care and compete. I am thankful for their wonderful teammates and coaches. I am thankful for all the victories and I am also thankful for the lessons learned from losing. Because when she loses…I WIN!