Category Archives: Rants

What and Why?

I went to see my mom for the first time in a long while last week. She lives in a really nice assisted living apartment two and a half hours away from where I live. She’s in her upper 80s and doesn’t move around very well. As is probably a common theme across similar situations over the past two years, the pandemic times have taken a toll on her wellness. 

We had a good visit. I talk with her at least weekly on the phone and we tell stories about our household adventures when we six Hays kids were growing up. We laugh a lot about the old days. Although talking on the phone is a very good thing, it’s still nice to be able to see her in person.

Of course, during the visit last week, we laughed and told the stories as usual. She told me she was trying to learn to paint after they had a painting class a few weeks earlier. We watched the TV (an X-Files movie!) and she had her usual, highly entertaining running commentary, which let me tell you is even a whole higher level of entertaining during a science fiction story. Classic stuff. I wish you could have been there.

During our phone or face-to-face visits, we inevitably end up heading toward a tough conversation. Mom will turn a little sullen and say. “Michael, every morning I wake up and ask God why he keeps me here and what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Tough questions. They’re tough questions I’m never really prepared to answer and it leaves a hole in my gut. I often reply, “I don’t know.”

We had that conversation last week. I once again answered that I didn’t know. After a few minutes of contemplation, we were back to the movie and making fun of aliens buried under Antarctica. The movie ended, we said our goodbyes, and I headed home.

During the drive home, I couldn’t shake that conversation. I couldn’t shake the emptiness at not being able to provide an answer that could give my mother some peace of mind.

God, what am I supposed to be doing?

Today the answer hit me. It hit me in church during the funeral of one of the most selfless, kind, and giving individuals in our small town. His life was all about finding the things that needed to be done and then doing them humbly. He led a purpose-driven life at its very best.

The answer was right there all along in with my mom’s hard questions.

God keeps us here in order to find the things we’re supposed to be doing.

We are given the gift of a day. It’s up to us to find the best way to spend it. It’s up to us to find ways to be the best stewards of our world and our communities that we can be.

God keeps us here in order to find the things we’re supposed to be doing.

Thank you Mom for the question.

Thank you Dennis for a life well-lived. 

Thank you, God, for the gift of today.

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$hit Work

I’ve been a molecular microbiologist for 33+ years. I’m just about as high as I can go on the university’s science technician ladder. Today, I needed to swap out three CO2 gas cylinders for our cell culture incubators. They weren’t completely empty but with the weekend approaching, I felt it wise to replace them before they could run out. The CO2 gas is vital to growing mammalian cells for our experiments. If the CO2 levels run too low, the cells will die. 

We have two fairly important experiments going on. One is a bacterial cell adherence experiment a visiting scientist is working on. Being a visiting scientist, time is limited, so the cells dying at this point would not be good if we want to complete this work. 

The second experiment is a gene-editing experiment I’ve been working on for almost a year. I’m trying to knockout a gene in a cell that’s could be vital for a bacterial pathogen’s entry into the host cell during the infection process. Needless to say, I do not want the CO2 to run out over the weekend and the potential gene-edited cells to die after 12 months of work. 

In short, properly changing the CO2 tanks is important.

The process of changing a gas cylinder is straightforward but it has to be done exactly right without leaks and with the proper gas flow to the incubator. The gas cylinders are stored in a locked cage outside the very north end of the building. One must use a cylinder hand cart to securely transport the empty CO2 cylinder all the way across the facility, swap it out for a full cylinder, and push it all the way back to the lab. Once in the lab, I installed the tank, check for leaks, ensure proper gas flow, and repeat.

On my second trip back to the lab with a full tank, a well-meaning coworker passed me in the hallway. The coworker laughed and said, “Why don’t you get a student worker to do that shit work?” I glared the best Coach Hays glare I could muster and the coworker politely skittered away.

But that question kept rattling in my brain as I went on the last round of drop-off and pick-up. 

$hit work? 

What the hell?

There’s really no such thing, is there?

Every job needs to be done or the system doesn’t function the way it should. The work matters. And if the work matters, it’s important it is done right no matter the size or the perceived importance of the task.

The same is true in coaching sports. The small work is often as important as the perceived important work. Coaching the lower-level or inexperienced athlete is more important for the long-term foundational success of your program than spending the majority of the time coaching the upper-level athlete. 

Just like in the lab, there’s no $hit work in sports coaching. It all matters but the work a coach does with the athletes who need it the most is often the most important thing one can do.

We’ve all heard the old axiom, “we are only as strong as our weakest link”. Those weakest links in our team, program, or organization might be considered the “$hit work”. Nevertheless, like the importance of properly changing the CO2 tanks, coaching up your weakest links makes the chain stronger.

Pay attention to the $hit work.

Do that work with purpose, pride, and passion.

Never forget how important the $hit work really is.

Agriculture in Britain during the First World War: Schoolboys fork out manure from a wheelbarrow onto an allotment during the First World War (via Wikimedia Commons).
Lance Cpl. Eithan Osborne dumps horse manure into a wheelbarrow during the Single Marine Program’s volunteer opportunity (via Wikimedia Commons).

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The Good Steward

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. –Genesis 2:15

Stewardship. The job of taking care of something. Simple enough word. Simple enough concept. 

The Bible quote from Genesis speaks of stewardship. In the Book of Genesis, right after God creates the heavens and the earth, right after creating the seas, the plants, the animals, and then us humans in his own image, what does He do next?

He creates the Garden of Eden for Adam. He pulls Adam aside, shows him the place He made for him to live, and says, “cultivate and care for it.”

God tasks Adam with stewardship. God puts his trust in Adam to take care of something special. Think about it. The first thing God tasks us with as humans is to take care of Creation.

Genesis 2:15 is one of the most influential lines in the whole Bible in my opinion. This line is one that drives me in many aspects of my life. Leave things as good as you found them and, if possible, leave things a little better off.

Stewardship is the first job as humans that our Creator gives to us beyond “be fruitful and multiply.” The call to stewardship, though, kind of gets lost in the bit of Genesis that follows about the forbidden fruit. We sometimes need a reminder we are called to be stewards. We are trusted to take care of things.

Our first job from God, taking care of the gifts we’re given, might be our most important job. Yet, do we act as good stewards of our gifts in today’s throw-away culture? 

Have we allowed the things we are trusted with to rot and fall apart instead of maintaining them? It takes dedication, work, and will to be good stewards of what we’re entrusted with.

Globally, nationally, and locally, we are called to take care of the gifts we’re given, Whether it’s oceans, lakes, prairies, communities, libraries, schools, or even parks, those that came before trusted us to do our job as stewards.

Are we up to the task or do we fail at the job we were entrusted to do? Once we neglect our responsibilities as stewards, either individually or collectively, we lose the trust of others. And trust, my friends, is a tough thing to get back.

Stewardship builds community. The ground we all walk on as we go about our daily lives and share with our neighbors is a gift.

We have to take care of the gifts we’re given. We have to be strong enough to take the first step and do the job. We need to be good stewards.

Stewardship takes work. As Sirach says,

“Do not hate hard work; work was assigned by God.” – Sirach 7:15

Be a good steward. Start today with baby steps. Strive daily to make the world and community you live in a little better place.

Photo courtesy of Phil Frigon

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Core Mission

What is the main thing you want to accomplish? That’s your core mission.

As an individual, an organization, or a team you have a core mission.

What is your core mission? What is your objective?

Once defined, ask yourself if you are focused on that core mission. Or are you distracted with the fluff and distractions that are tangents to the objective?

It happens. All the freaking time. We lose our place.

Why?

Because the fluff and the distractions become easier to pursue and provide quick gratification. But fluff and distractions don’t get the job done. The fluff and distractions don’t lead to any satisfaction. They don’t make the team better. They don’t educate kids better. They don’t help a community or society become better.

The things that lie outside the core mission suck energy and joy. They create chaos and anxiety. They keep taking without giving any back.

A lifetime ago when I played baseball, I’d occasionally hit a batting slump. HItting a baseball was my one tool as a one-tool baseball player so if I couldn’t hit the ball, I was pretty worthless to my team. While in a slump, I almost certainly forgot my core mission inside the batter’s box which was to hit the dang baseball. 

Yes, the core mission was so simple. Hit the ball.

During slumps, my mind would race on just about everything except the core mission. I’d think “I can’t fail again.” “What if I leave runners on base?” “Wow, those hot dogs cooking in the concession stand smell really good.”

My focus and energy would be all over the place. Anxiety would go haywire. My hands would sweat. The pitch would come in and the ball looked like a tiny marble while my body felt like it was encased in Jell-O. 

Once I noticed I was paying attention to everything except the core mission of hitting the ball, I could take a few deep breaths, step into the box, and block out everything (including the hot dogs) unrelated to the core mission of putting the bat on the baseball. Like magic, the slump was history.

So if you find yourself or your organization in a slump, lost, confused, floundering, or in a state of chaotic anxiety, step back and refocus on the objective. 

Get back to the core mission. If you don’t even remember what it is, take the time to find out.

Whether you’re hitting a baseball, coaching a sports team, running a business, responsible for public health, operating a school district, or simply wanting to live a more faithful life, remember your core mission. Simplify, take a deep breath, and let the fluff and distractions fade away. 

Get back to doing what you do. Educating kids, playing right guard, getting your team ready for the season, or leading the most awesome nation on the planet, aiming your energy into the direction of the core mission works.

Keep the faith. Keep the eye on the prize. Do the work. Make your thing better and you’ll make everything around you better.

And Lord knows, in the Spring of 2022, we all can use a little less anxiety and better performance from everything around us.

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Memory Banks

Buffalo Bills @ Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Divisional Playoffs
January 23, 2022
Arrowhead Stadium
Kansas City, MO

Wow! What a game between the Bills and the Chiefs!

The greatest game in NFL playoff history?

The greatest total QB performance by both Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes?

Who’s to judge? I’m biased so I am a resounding “YES!” On both counts.

I tried to sleep after the game. I was beat. Worn out from a head cold and from sitting on pins and needles for hours watching the game. Okay, I was also worn out from yelling at the TV but I’ll rant about that in a later post.

I tried to sleep. Monday morning and work were staring me in the face. I needed sleep. I knew I had to trick my mind into a relaxing slumber so I pulled up a book I’m reading on orbital mechanics. Thirty minutes into reading about eccentricity and inclination and the argument of periapsis, I was not only not tired but I was actually getting really fired up about eccentricity, inclination, and the argument of periapsis. The Chiefs’ game adrenaline was still flowing.

I gave up on trying to read myself to sleep so I contemplated the game. There was a nagging familiarity during the game that jostled my memory banks. A pleasant familiarity I couldn’t quite put a finger on during the excitement of the game.

But as I lay there in bed staring at the ceiling with the joy of the unlikeliest of Chiefs’ victories being a real and tangible victory, that specific memory came rushing back.

It happened in the early 1970s. I was watching the Vikings play the Rams from the LA Coliseum on TV from Kansas City, KS. It was a beautiful, late afternoon, Southern California day. I was, and still am, a fan of the game of football so the 8-10-year-old me was soaking in all the NFL action he could find. The young me couldn’t get enough football when it was football season, baseball when it was baseball season, or basketball when it was basketball season. It was, and still is, a blessing and a curse.

Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback for the Vikings and Roman Gabriel was the quarterback for the Rams that day. What I remember is those two great QBs of my childhood throwing long passes up and down the field in an amazing offensive game. Gabriel would drop back, set his feet, and launch a rainbow of a pass that seemed to clear the upper rim of the Coliseum. Next, Tarkenton would employ his textbook scramble, moving 30 or more yards to avoid the fierce Fearsome Foursome pass rushers and let the ball fly downfield for a completion.

Burned in the memory is this pattern of incredible passing feats that went back and forth the entire game. Bomb after bomb after bomb. It probably didn’t happen this way but that is how the kid-generated memory reads in my 57-year-old mind. The memory may not be 100% accurate, but in my memory banks, it’s 100% spectacular even after all these years. It’s a feeling of pure, youthful sports joy I hope I never outgrow.

Why do I share this 1970s football memory with you? Because I hope the young kids who watched the Bills play the Chiefs on January 23, 2022, burn the memory into their memory banks like I did in the early 1970s. I hope when they’re 57, the near-perfect performance of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes in a game for the ages rushes back and puts a smile on their faces.

That’s what sports are all about. Magic and memory.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Happy New Year 2022!

The Priestly Blessing

The LORD said to Moses:  
“Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:  
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:  
The LORD bless you and keep you!  
The LORD let his face shine upon      
you, and be gracious to you!  
The LORD look upon you kindly and      
give you peace!

So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites,  
and I will bless them.”

Numbers 6: 22-27

Sunrise, Kansas, Nov. 2021, Sometimes you just have to pull over & appreciate.

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The American Game

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. For me, it’s always been a great day. This year is extra special because the team that’s woven into my DNA, the Kansas City Chiefs, is playing for a chance to win their second straight Lombardi Trophy. 

The Super Bowl is a celebration of the game of football. Football has become America’s Game. Rightfully so. 

It’s the perfect modern American Game. 

A contest is scheduled.

Fans, coaches, and players prepare. They can even talk some trash before the game.

The game is played. The teams tried to bash each other’s heads in for four quarters. 

One side wins. One side loses. 

At the end of the game, we shake hands, go our separate ways, and then get ready for the next game. It’s play the game, enjoy it, and get back to work. 

See what I mean? It truly is America’s Game. 

A lesson staring us in the face about what we need to do as a nation, as the United States of America, moving forward into 2021 and beyond.

It’s easy to get sidelined by things outside of our control. It’s easy to become caught in a loop of emotion and lost in confusion. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s vital and important. 

Enjoy the Super Bowl today!

Cheer and scream for our team. Eat, drink, and be merry. Most importantly, be safe and be true. 

When the game is over, shake hands, and wish your opponent well. Then wake up tomorrow and get back to the business of being a good American. We need teamwork to put the greatest nation on Earth back on the right track. We need each other.

America’s Game is asking for you to chip in. 

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Christmas Chaos

There are many great Christmas memories of growing up in the Hays Household. Most of these memories are not tied to any particular gifts or presents. When you are a family of eight surviving month to month on a public employee’s salary, materialism plays a prominent role only in dreams. Nevertheless, we were unbelievably happy for the most part. 

Nothing is better around the last week or so of December than to be stuck inside a house with four brothers and one sister. I’m sure my mother recalls these times through rose-colored glasses and neglects the reality of the chaos which ensued but the chaos is what made these great memories. The fights over electric football frustration (Yes, electric football was absolute frustration for a child by its very design.), who played with whose toys, who ate the reserved piece of pie tucked in the back corner of the fridge behind the vegetables, etc. The list goes on and on.

I’m sure when Madison Avenue set out to create the idyllic American Christmas with smiling families drinking punch and singing carols around a fire while opening expensive but thoughtful gifts they did not have the Hays Family in mind. Who uses the wooden nutcracker as a brotherly torture challenge to see how much pressure one could take on their thumb? What houses tumble into complete pandemonium over whose turn it is to turn on the light inside the 15” plastic Santa decoration? Not many, I would guess. Certainly no houses in the Madison Avenue plan.

This year there are two Christmas memories making me smile. The first is povitica. It is a sweet bread made by my Croatian great aunts, my grandmother, and my mother. It is a wonderful food. It’s also one of the few Croatian traditions we have left. Povitica is a mixture of melted butter, walnuts, and sugar spread over a thin layer of bread dough. The bread dough is folded over and over upon itself (which is a beautiful, synchronized dance when performed by elderly Croatian women) until it fits neatly into a bread pan. The finished product is heavenly. Where bread is usually orderly and structured, a loaf of povitica is swirls of bread layers and filling layers becoming a thing both chaotic and beautiful. To this day, when I bite into a piece of Strawberry Hill Povitica on any occasion, holiday or otherwise, the taste chaos brings with it memories of my Croatian ancestry. Good memories. Chaos that warms the soul. 

The second Christmas memory is of a plywood Santa cutout. I have no recollection of where we got this thing. Perhaps it came from a relative’s storage cleanout, I don’t know. It was about four feet tall. It had an old color printing scheme of white, red, and a kind of pea-ish green. The colored, thick cardboard print of Santa was tacked with small nails onto a cut 1/4” piece of plywood. It would often be stuck against the wall between the Christmas tree and the television set in the living room. This Christmas memory, however, is not of the Santa cutout but about projectiles and homemade weaponry.

I went through a period where it seemed like a great idea to create missiles out of paper clips to be shot from rubber band launchers. It was fun, I guess, to fire the projectiles at increasing velocities from thick and larger rubber bands. We were sons of an engineer if that helps explain anything. It turns out, however, that siblings do not like to be forced to take cover or be struck by high-velocity paper clips shaped like arrowheads. I was forced into coming up with a better target than my family members for practice and experimentation. Hence, the Santa cutout. 

After several strikes, I noticed the paper clips left a mark on the paper. I should have stopped to avoid a verbal thrashing from my mother but…science called! I began to wrap the business ends of the paper clips with masking tape. Success! The mark on jolly, old Saint Nick was barely visible, plus the “THUMP!” made when the missile found its mark was now barely audible. Success!

After all these years, that sound still brings a smile to my face. Chaos created with siblings diving out of the firing line. Chaos in placing Santa at various positions in the house for a little variety. Chaos in the memory of, not only how lucky I was to have never shattered the TV screen into a million useless shards of glass, but of the fun of growing up in the family I grew up in. 

Chaos and order. That’s the core of Christmas. It is a birth from the chaos we celebrate. A birth that brought the Savior into the world while the family’s own world was tumbling into chaos. Christmas is the turning from dark to light. It is hope inside a nutshell to be cracked with a wooden nutcracker exerting about as much pressure as it took to make my little brother’s thumb throb with enough pain to make him tap out. There is light after the dark. This is hope amidst despair.

There is beauty in the chaos of our life. Every, single day.

Merry Christmas! 

Happy Holidays to all!

The actual wooden nutcracker we used as a thumbscrew.

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The Ball Will Find You

There’s this weird and strange thing in sports. I’ve witnessed it as a player, a coach, and as a fan. I saw it quite often while coaching baseball and football, especially at the JV level. You put a player into the game at a critical junction for any number of good reasons like an injury substitution, playing time, or just a hunch. Inevitably, the ball will be hit in their direction, they’ll get targeted as a defensive back against the opponent’s best receiver, or the ball will find it’s way into their hands for the last second do-or-die shot. This scenario seems to play out with great frequency. The ball will find you.

From the highest office in the land to the lowest levels of sports, it’s important to put the people in place to get the job done. If you don’t, errors occur, mistakes are made, and systems devolve into chaos. But why? 

Because the ball will always find you. 

The negative results we often see are an effect caused by incompetence in addressing each and every situation. In short, like the third-string, sophomore right fielder seeing his first varsity action in the late innings of a state playoff game, people get put into situations that are over their heads. They neither have the tools or the experience to react with competence. 

Personally and professionally, I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. Weak links are holes in the ship and the holes are always most vulnerable, especially in a crisis. Holes sink ships. Weak links sink organizations, teams, and systems.

This is why when it’s time for you to make a decision, cast a vote, or trust someone with a job, you need to consider if that person is up for the job. Who’s going to get the job done and who’s going to be the weak link in a system? Who’s going to be the one who, as President Theodore Roosevelt most aptly said, will “Speak softly and carry a big stick” and who’s going to be as we said back in the day, “All blow and no show.”

The choice is up to you. 

But always remember that whomever you support, honestly evaluate whether they are capable of performing the required duties in a responsible manner. 

Because they will be tested. They need to be ready to up their game and be prepared to take on the tasks at hand. 

The ball always finds them. 

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A Grind

There’s been so much talk about getting back to “normal”. I understand. These are strange times indeed. Home, school, work, play, even going shopping, have all been knocked topsy-turvy in 2020. 

The problem with expending so much energy and emotion trying to get back to “normal” is that, in reality, there is no normal. Things are what they are. Things have always been what they are. And, if we need reminding, these things aren’t always what we want them to be. Never have been, never will be. 

Yet, we in modern America have made a huge mistake. We’ve convinced ourselves we are in charge. We’ve done such a great job of controlling aspects of our life and society that we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking we can control everything.

We can’t.

Never have.

Never will.

Life changes. Shit happens, man.

What matters is how we deal with it.

What matters is what we choose to do every day with the situation we’ve been given. Do we rise to the challenge? Or do we whine and throw a hissy fit? The choice is ours.

Time is linear. It never stops moving forward and there is not a dang thing we can do about it. We can, however, live that next moment in the moment. We can take the bull by the horns and give that next moment in time our very best. That’s what Americans do. That’s what Kansans do. We don’t whine. We don’t point fingers. Okay, okay! I know we all whine and we all point fingers at times. Recently, though, we’ve forgotten there’s always the next step. The step where we take the cards we’ve been dealt and make the best happen after the whining is done.

Life’s a grind. It’s one day after the other. Linear time.

Our job is to wake up each day and grind it out the best we can. 

Our job is to take advantage of the possibilities that come with each sunrise.

Our job is to make the world a better place.

We’ll get through these tough times by working together. 

One day at a time. One play at a time. One swing at a time.

Every man, every play.

Be safe. Be kind. Grind it out.

By Peter van der Sluijs – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26141131

 

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