I have an account on Blogger.com that I don't use. It contains some ancient history I thought I'd share here. I created this post back in 2014. The events talked about go back as far as 2000 or 1996 or so...
I went to COE 22 disciple group tonight and caught the writing bug. Haven’t had this happen in a while. Things are just popping in my head like George Bailey moments.
There were two topics of conversation tonight that triggered these thoughts. The first was about saving money. The second was about investing in other people’s lives… in particular children’s lives.
Back in the day, I used to work at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. Blue Cross used to match what we saved. They gave us 50% of whatever we saved up to 6% or 7%. So, if you invested 6% then Blue Cross would contribute half of that or 3%. That was free money.
I remember some people who did not take advantage of that. They maybe invested 3% and only received 1.5% from Blue Cross. I’m like… that’s FREE MONEY… tax free money. Looking back on things now, I would like to have saved 10% or more…. Even though Blue Cross would max out at 3%. I still made a good decision either way. There are people who actually think they live and work to buy toys…. To buy nice houses…. To furnish their homes with lots of nice things. Nowadays I’m like… there’s more to life than that.
When I first started at Blue Cross we had offices off Baymeadows Rd in the Freedom Commerce Center. We used to work long nights on occasion. The cleaning crew would come in around 7pm and work several hours cleaning the place up. There was a father and son on the crew. They were from Bosnia.
One night I was working on a computer in the corporate library. The son came up and chatted a little. He was 15 or 16 years old, I think. Somewhere along the way, I don’t remember if it was that night or sometime afterwards, I told him I’d sell him a computer for $50 and show him how to put it together.
I literally had a computer sitting in the middle of my living room floor in pieces. I was a geek back then. He was interested so, I put everything in my car and took it over one night. I went to their apartment. It was a small apartment…. 600 sq ft or 700 sq ft at most. When you walked in the front door they had two sofas and a recliner in the ‘living’ room. There was a coffee table in the middle and you had just enough room to squeeze in and sit down. Their dining room was about half that size as was the kitchen.
We worked on the computer in his room. He shared a small bedroom with his sister. They had 2 twin beds and about 3 feet in between the beds. That was all… no dresser(s). The parents had the ‘big’ bedroom.
I tried to get the computer to work but, couldn't. I got frustrated. I eventually apologized, left, and took the computer somewhere and figured out the problem. It was easy. I think I was nervous about the new experience and just wasn't thinking clearly.
When I went back the next night I found something unusual had happened. I didn't appreciate it at the time but, the parents changed rooms with the kids. The kids now had the ‘big’ bedroom and the parents the small one. I figure the parents sensed something important was going on and they wanted to sacrifice for their children.
I showed him how to put the computer together and explained all of the internal components. A humorous thing happened periodically when we worked on the computer. I would point to something inside and then we’d both lean over the computer to see what I was talking about. Each time we’d hit our heads. You think we’d learn after the first time or two. But, Noooooo. This was a regular occurrence. Little did I know but, that was the beginning of something big.
One thing he did, which drove me nuts, was he spent hours on AOL each night chatting with friends in Bosnia. It got bad. He started getting pale because he wasn't getting any sun. Everything worked itself out eventually.
He learned everything there was to learn about computers. That was a saving grace. He didn't have good grades in school, apparently. I had no clue. I never monitored that. He just barely graduated from Englewood, my alma mater. After graduation he decided to further his education. That blew me away because he said he wasn't going to FCJ or UNF because English was a required course. He chose ITTech. Little did he know that ITTech had required English courses as well.
He went to ITTech, completed the course work and graduated. Then, he did something I thought he would never do, again. He went back to ITTech for another degree. Today, he works for IBM and is Cisco certified, owns his own home, is married and has a little boy.
I learned to row while I was at Blue Cross. I became obsessed with rowing. I still am to this day, I just don’t have the time to do it. Anyway, my friend, who was president of the rowing club, was asked to go start a rowing program at The Bolles School. Now, my friend never asked anybody for help. So, I made it a point to tag along and volunteer. I did this for several years. I used to just fill in the gaps. I found things that needed to be done and did them while he did other more important things. I was like his right hand man.
It was fun coaching the kids. Actually, I like to say teaching the kids. I don’t like to say coach because that’s a higher level of responsibility and authority. I never wanted to be called a coach. I just helped. I would help put the launches on the water. I helped rig and derig boats. I helped load the trailer and prepare it for road trips. I even road shot gun in the truck. Then, one day I got to chaperon the kids on a trip. I freaked out. I was not used to being an authoritarian. Fortunately, one of the Bolles moms was a teacher at Bolles and she went on the bus as well. I learned how to be ‘mean’ and act authoritative from her.
One thing I’ll cherish from that experience is the relationships I developed with the athletes. When I first joined Facebook most of my 'friends' were former rowers. Several are special to me. One girl, in particular, came from a broken home. The parents went through a bitter, nasty divorce. Actually, a lot of kids in crew have gone through bitter, nasty divorces. I never knew because they were just as nice as could be. This one girl, though, started something with me one time that well, I had to teach her a lesson. She came up to me and hit me on my arm. I don’t remember why but, there was a reason. I just think the reason was really more than she could've put into words.
After she hit me in the arm I ‘turned the cheek’ and told her to hit me in the other arm. She gave me the funniest look like I was nuts. From then on, whenever she hit me in the arm I automatically turned and told her to hit me in the other arm. Sometimes she’d do that in front of her friends just to show them what I’d do. Sometimes I'd walk up to her, point at my arm and say hit me.
It was at crew where I had a ‘Sally Fields’ moment. You know the moment… well, maybe. Sally won an Oscar and at the end of the speech she said, “You like me! Right now! You like me!” I had that moment with 3 of the guys one time. We were talking and it just hit me out of the blue. I thought to myself…. “They like me?” Wow. I grew and matured more than I’d ever imagined I would from my time with the Bolles crew. I cherish those memories.
In 2006 I quit Blue Cross and opened my business in 2007. I determined that everybody who walked through the doors would be an ‘appointment from God’. Well, I've had a lot of appointments since then. At the end of April or the first of May I had a mother and son come in to my store. They were from Bosnia. Go figure. She had two blank money orders and some other papers. She spread everything out on the counter and simply said, “Help”. She couldn't speak English. But, her little 10 year old son could. He was a pistol.
She had to send the paperwork and money orders to the Bosnian Embassy and had no idea how to fill the money orders out. I had no clue, either. While she was looking through everything she realized she’d forgotten the photos for the passports. So, she left everything and went home to get them. She left the money orders, the paperwork and her 10 year old son. I was flabbergasted.
He was a pistol, sharp as a whip. Smart!!!! Oh boy, was he smart. He sat there and ‘colored’. He really just sat there and asked a lot of questions. At one point he asked if he could play on one of my computers. I didn't want him to do that because he had to sit behind the counter with me and I didn't want any misunderstandings from having him sit there. I’m terrible at saying no sometimes. He played on the computer. In the meantime, I called the Bosnian Embassy and filled out the money orders accordingly.
His mother eventually came back. We finished our business and then she said she needed to go shopping next door. Her son blurted out… Can I stay here until 3 pm and play games? What’s magical about 3 pm? I didn't know. I thought she’d say no. She didn't. He stayed and played games. She went shopping then went home. At 3 pm she came back, picked up her son and went home, again. I remember watching them walk down the way hand in hand.
During our ‘visit’ I found out that he went home after school and was alone until his mother gets off work. I didn't like that idea. So, I invited him to come to the store after school each day. I had a computer laying around at home. I set that up in the front of the store so I could keep an eye on him. He’d come in each day and play on the computer, then go home.
About a month later I took him to the downtown post office after the store closed. I deliberately drove by the church (First Baptist Church) to see if he might be interested in going to church. He was.
I remember the first Sunday morning I picked him up. He came running out of the apartment door, down the hallway, down the stairs… wearing shorts and one of his favorite wrestling t-shirts. I cringed. Each Sunday he’d wear shorts and a wrestling t-shirt. That didn't matter because he was getting fed the word of God. It irritated me to no end, however.
During this time a Christian group called Evidence came to church. They sang one of my favorite old songs… a song called The Trumpet of Jesus. You can look up the song on YouTube. I played that song on repeat A LOT. One time we went to the zoo. I figure it played about 19 times there and back.
After several weeks of going to church and answering a lot of questions I led him to accept Jesus as he Lord and Savior. He was baptized. I don’t know if I did a good job or not. It’s been a struggle these years getting him to stay on track. It’s just that… When he goes in the apartment and closes the door he’s in another world. There’s too much there to write right now. So, I’ll just say pray for him. He faces a lot of temptations and his mother simply can’t father him.
A week or two after he was baptized I had 2 Albanians come into my store. One of them just arrived in Jacksonville and wanted to rent a mailbox. He heard the Christian cd playing in the background so he struck up a conversation. He rented the mailbox and then they left. He came back several hours later and asked me for a job. I’m like… I don’t think I can hire you. You don’t have a green card. But, come back tomorrow and talk to my friend. She’s going to watch the store while I go to a doctor appointment. I returned from the appointment and we talked some more. I invited him to come the next day.
The next day was Wednesday. He sat in the store and we talked some more. Later on that day I invited him to the Wednesday night service. He accepted. He and I and my little Bosnian friend all went to church that night. After church I took him ‘home’. His friends set him up at the Gator Lodge on Philips Hwy. I've never been to the Gator Lodge but, I know enough to know… that’s like the red light district.
As we drove around the back I decided to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. I said, I've got a big house and two spare bedrooms. Would you like to come stay with me? Before I finished my sentence he said yes. I didn't find out until a year or two later that he’d had a hooker come up and knock on his door asking him if he was lonely. That explained why he had a Bible in each of the 4 corners of his room.
He stayed with me for 3 years. I couldn't hire him. So, he just ‘hung’ out at the store, for 3 years, and I met his needs. He learned everything there was to learn about the store. I was able to leave him in charge when I had to go do things. There was one time when he was sick. So, he stayed at home and I watched the store. Then, there was a time when I was sick and so, I stayed home and he watched the store. He was like a brother to me, and I to him.
He taught me something about Bosnians… or rather, Baltic people. The mother does not discipline the son(s). That is the father’s job. He also didn't like the wrestling t-shirts, either. So, that Thanksgiving we went to Sears and I bought a white dress shirt, blue dress pants and some nice shoes. That Sunday when the door opened the little one didn't RUN down the hallway. He walked. And, he checked himself out every step of the way. He didn't look like a Bosnian anymore. Sometimes it’s the little things like some nice clothes that make the difference.
We tried everything we could to work it out so my friend could stay, but, it was not to be. After 3 years he had to go back home to Albania.
These are just some of the George Bailey moments I've had running through my mind tonight. I have a lot more. It’s nice remembering them and remembering all God’s done for me.
So, if you're wondering... should I mentor somebody? should I volunteer somewhere? Uh, yes. Do.