Itsy-Bitsy Gift

Three daughters, young, beautiful, 7, 5, and 2, dark-skinned, Mom with a slight accent. “Chad” she answered to my query about her home country. She had lived in ours for ten years and was now enjoying a hot breakfast at our FOCUS dining room with her young girls, sitting by themselves since most folks were done.

The little one invisibly beckoned me to come and sit beside her, and then (in my mind) whispered “I have a gift I want to give you, a blessing to warm your heart.”

Now who can resist such a mysterious invitation, thought the father of three beautiful daughters who once were those same ages. So down I sat right next to this tiny one in her booster chair, and immediately began appreciating her simple braids and delicate features. She turned and stared at me, expressionless, pure, innocent, perhaps never having had a large light-skinned male so close to her. She didn’t seem to mind at all. Her job at two years old was simply to “observe and absorb” everything entering her field of reference. It’s what kids do. It’s part of the gift they bring if one has eyes to see and ears to hear, reminding us of the sacred reality of being, of communion.

In spite of my banter, I couldn’t seem to arouse any kind of response from the little one: no words, no fear, no discomfort, no looking at Mom for reassurance, no smile or frown, just gentle innocent eyes meeting mine. It was as if she had been waiting for me to join her. I was loving it because sometimes we human types get to “just sit” in each other’s presence. That’s right – it’s actually an important thing we have full permission from God to do. . . an agenda-less moment, sans all cell phones or other technological distractions.

After about five minutes or so, the little one inaudibly asked me to sing her a song. (excuse me, Randy, your imagination is a little weird here.) No it’s not – I have empirical proof that is what she said in her mind . . . it was the gift she had for me.

“Itsy-bitsy spider went up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. . .” My hands automatically illustrated this age-old story of life on Planet Earth. And then, at about the 3rd line, her little face turned to me, a beautiful smile slowly emerged, and those tiny little-girl lips began to mimic the words. No little-girl voice was heard, but it was clear: she had heard those very words before and loved them, and was glad to have the chance to join in. The invisible hosts of heaven hummed along in amazement and joy.

I cannot put into words how this moved and warmed my heart, how it transported me to a place of wonder, reflection, and thankfulness to God for this little one’s gift in that moment, totally unexpected, amazingly therapeutic to my tired body and spirit.

We connected through music, two fellow travelers separated by 65 years and thousands of experiences. And at that moment we were completely one and the same, touching heaven together. And I believe Mary, the mother of our God, smiled at the memories of songs she once had shared with her young child Jesus, the only True Friend of mankind. What a profound gift.

Isn’t There Just One ?

August, 2011

Dear Indianapolis Star Editor:     Isn’t there just one?                                                   

I taught at a church youth camp last week on poverty and helping the poor as a source of many blessings, especially for those who give in some way of their time, talent, or treasure to folks struggling to find enough to eat or pay their electric bill.

Since Peyton Manning’s contract negotiations were in the headlines, it just came to me during the introduction of my talk to wonder out loud – “What in the world is Peyton going to do with more money than he’ll ever spend, especially a $24 million dollar a year salary?” Team owner Jim Irsay was willing to pay that to make him the highest paid NFL player ever. Since then, Peyton “stepped up” for the team’s sake and settled for only $18 million per year.

I went on to share what I have often pondered. What if one professional athlete– just one–who makes a minimum of, say $2 million dollars a year, were to decide that he can live more than adequately and comfortably on, for example, $200,000 a year. He would then give the rest of his salary, all of it after taxes and business expenses, to any legitimate social needs he or she felt drawn to support. How amazing and powerful that would be in a world addicted to greed, to more more more, and to the underlying misleading assumption that life and happiness consist in the abundance of possessions.

After a cursory Google search on Pro Athletes and their Foundations and charitable giving, I was pleasantly surprised to read an impressive list of rich athletes who are giving back (for example check out  From, these stats:

The PeyBack Foundation funds various programs in Indiana, Louisiana and Tennessee.  The Foundation has distributed more than $4.3 million in grants since 2002, including $800,000 in May 2011 to 147 youth based organizations.  The Foundation provides assistance to programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs, area food banks, after-school programs, and summer camps.

That is about $482,000 a year (admirable), but only about 2.6% of his new annual salary (not including his endorsement income.) What if Peyton were to announce that since he already has more money than he and his children and his grandchildren will ever know how to spend, he has decided to live on $200,000 a year and give, say, $8 million a year to his foundation (based on Uncle taking his 45% plus other business expenses). Each year, those disadvantaged youth programs, and others like it throughout 50 states, could start to share almost 600% more per year than three states have enjoyed since he started this excellent Foundation.

If anyone chooses to respond by defending Peyton in some way, please – it’s not the point I’m musing about. It’s not about some judgment left only to God about Peyton’s or other pro athletes’ moral character. And of course I have no idea what percentage of Peyton’s take home pay he gives to other charitable causes. It’s not anyone’s business unless he makes it public.

I’m a huge fan of Peyton Manning’s athletic ability, mental focus, and work ethic. Huge! I would become an even bigger fan of him or any other professional athlete who would decide to live on “only” $200,000 a year, giving everything else society and business believe them to be worth as gifts to those struggling just to feed their children regular healthy meals, who live all around us. As Jeff Saturday recently said, “Athletes should lead by example.”

A very wise man who lived in the 4th century had this to say about maximum human happiness and fulfillment in this life: “The rich exist for the poor; but the poor exist for the salvation (wholeness, fullness) of the rich.”