One Handed Driver

As the story goes, it was just boys being boys. In the mid 1920’s, in a small town in Northwest, South Dakota, a negro league baseball team was using a local ball diamond for practice. This is a historical story all to its own, but not for now.

African American baseball players in rural South Dakota. Talk about a natural draw for any group of curious young boys, especially in a small town with not much to do. To add to the excitement and adventure, the boys climbed up a latter on the side of a building for a rooftop view of the practice.

As one of the boys made his way up the latter, another boy thought it would be funny to pull the latter out from under him. This young, nine-year-old boy fell to the ground and broke his left arm.

Just over fifty years after this incident took place, I began the annual summer journey with my family from Southern California to South Dakota. Thirteen hundred miles stood between me and my own South Dakota adventures.

No doubt, there was joy in the journey. This was back in the day when car seats and seat belts were only a distant thought. Sleeping in the back window of our 1973 Monte Carlo I am sure wasn’t safe, but we survived.

One of my favorite memories of our many trips, and one I got to brag about to my friends was sitting on my dad’s lap, getting to steer the car. In my young boy mind, it seemed like I drove for hundreds of miles. I am sure letting me drive the car as a young boy was a break from the monotony for my dad over the many miles we traveled.

I remember my dad’s right hand reaching down around mine in any instance where he needed to take control. It was my earliest recollection of watching my dad drive with only one hand. It was a driving style I would learn and take on myself.

It is amazing how much we learn sometimes without realizing we are even learning. To this day, I am a one handed driver.

I am sure the opportunity to drive on my dad’s lap didn’t completely eliminate the question every parent endures on a long road trip, “Are we there yet?” Twenty hours in a car is a long haul no matter how old you are.

As we drove through Hot Springs, South Dakota, we knew we were getting close. There was an excitement that filled our car as we rolled up to Grandpa and Grandma Mills house on Galena Drive. They were usually sitting on their front porch waiting for us. A wonderful image burned into my memory.

Our annual South Dakota summer adventure officially began as we stepped out of the car and took our first breath of the fresh Black Hills air. Over the course of the summer, I had the privilege of watching my dad interact with his dad.

I could tell my dad viewed his dad as a hero. Now as an adult, I am amazed at how often I recognize and say about myself, that is just how my dad did it. I am sure my dad said the same thing about his dad. But with my dad, there was a twist in how he learned from his dad.

The real life consequences of boys being boys was a broken left arm of a young nine-year-old boy. In most cases, a broken arm is a routine fix with a cast and a month or so to heal. This broken arm would be different.

My grandpa never spoke about how he lost his arm, so the details are vague. What we do know is, the break in his arm contracted an infection that turned into gangrene. The result, a young, nine-year-old boy had his left arm amputated well above his elbow.

The only thing I ever heard my grandpa could not do was wash his own elbow. I am not even sure that was true. I am pretty sure I watched him figure a way to accomplish this simple task that any two handed person could easily do.

My dad learned how to tie his shoes with one hand, button his shirt with one hand, bowl one handed, (my grandpa is in the South Dakota Bowlers Hall of Fame and bowled eight perfect games in his life) and learned to drive with one hand.

I am a one handed driver because my dad was a one handed driver. My dad was a one handed driver because his dad was a one handed driver.

My Grandpa - South Dakota Bowler Hall of Fame

My Grandpa – South Dakota Bowler Hall of Fame

This legacy of learning is now four generations old in the Mills family. If you asked Hugh Mills kids about how influential their dad was in their lives, it would be very clear the admiration they have for their dad.

It breaks many modern day statistical facts of the success a child growing up without a father might experience. My Grandpa Mills never had the chance to learn a single thing from his father. My Great Grandpa Mills was killed in WW1 before my grandpa was ever born.

I am reminded of two other nine-year-old boys we became acquainted with in our first year of marriage. These young boys’ were in Susan’s special education class. There were just five young boys in her class designated as emotionally disturbed.

On one particular day, one of the boys acted out in a way that required multiple adults to restrain him. A rage and profanities no nine-year-old should even know. The event became so dangerous the police were called in to control the situation.

The other boy indicated his ongoing deviant behavior was driven by the desire to be arrested. In his young mind, this was the ticket to go and be with his dad who was serving time in prison.

As I have lived in the orphan care world over the past seven years or so, I have learned the stories and tragedies of orphans and vulnerable kids with no one to love them and lead them by example. Too many times I have heard the stories from foster care social workers who worked with grandma, mom and now the kids. A generational cycle of poverty and destruction.

I have wondered before why I have been so blessed with two men who dramatically shaped my life with love, guided by a desire to live with character and integrity. I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes along the way, but my recalibration is guided by the Holy Spirit and desire to surrender to Christ.

My Heroes! The men who shaped my life.

My Heroes! The men who shaped my life.

It is amazing how much we learn sometimes without realizing we are even learning. Learning to become a one handed driver is only symbolic of the greater benefit of the men in my life who shaped who I am today.

There is not a church in America, rural or suburban, who does not have kids who are in state custody, otherwise known as the foster care system, in close proximity to their building. These vulnerable kids go to school with your children, yet many of them are unknown and forgotten. How can this be?

A common response I get from pastors when talking to them about caring for orphans and vulnerable kids is this, we are already doing too much!

Having been a pastor, I get it. But the question I think in my mind is, what if we are too busy doing the wrong things? There is an ongoing spiritual battle for the very souls of these vulnerable children.

When we are too busy doing other things to care, the enemy is winning, capturing these young souls with the purpose to kill, steal and destroy, with hardly any effort.

There are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable kids here in the US and millions of orphans around the world who lack any loving guidance in their lives. The unfortunate statistics tell us they are the ones who will likely break into our homes, steal our cars, sell drugs to our kids, sell themselves on the streets and take the lives of those who we love the most.

On my most frustrating days of trying to bring awareness to care for these vulnerable kids to pastors and churches, I am reminded there are those who are still answering the call to bring hope and a future to these valued children, made in the image of God.

Last week, I was honored to be present at the adoption proceedings of good friends of mine who brought a sibling group of four into their family. These kids had spent 1525 days in the foster care system. But on this day, they became a part of a loving family. I wish you could have seen the joy and relief on these kids’ faces.

Later on this same day, I attended a Wednesday night service at my church where the guest speaker talked about near death experiences. You might be asking; how does this relate? This particular speaker has interviewed over 1,000 people who have experienced near death experiences.

Those who had returned from their near death experiences spoke about going through a life review with Jesus prior to being resuscitated. What I was struck by were the things most important to Jesus in these life reviews. I can assure you, it was not about wealth, status or accomplishments, but about relationships. The most important thing to Jesus was how we treat people.

I guess when Jesus said, whatever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do unto me, He wasn’t joking. I get that foster care and adoption are difficult. But there is this other pesky verse Jesus talks about in taking up our cross daily. The cross is never easy, but it certainly is selfless.

So how do we follow the call by Jesus to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily in a culture where comfort is the ultimate goal? What if someday a vulnerable kid wrote about the impact you made in their life? The possibility of a legacy you left that broke the cycle of generational poverty and destruction.

I count it a privilege to be able to say, “that is just how my dad did it.” My grandpa was a one handed driver. My dad was a one handed driver. Because of them, I am a one handed driver, and so much more….