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“The wise do not lay up their own treasures.
The more they give to others, the more they have for themselves.”

– Lao Tzu

When I got up last Friday morning I could barely get out of bed. It was the kind of sickness that drained not only my energy, but also my voice. The kind of sickness that makes turning off the alarm, getting back into bed and pulling the covers over your eyes the obvious decision… But I’d made a commitment earlier in the week.

Four times a year I have the honor of partnering with FOCUS Marines Foundation and speaking with wounded warriors. They served their country, fought overseas and came home, but many of the battles continue to rage. Many struggle with PTSD, anger management, self-worth and suicidal ideation. Self-medicating these wounds frequently leads to other addictions.

It’s a tough group. It’s also one of the greatest group of men and women I get to speak with during the entire year. 

While sharing the story of Jack Buck, his visits to my hospital room as a kid, John O’Leary Day at the Ballpark, and the 60 baseballs he sent my way teaching me how to write again, a deep voice from a Marine to my left barked out, “Where are your balls?”

These sessions are hours long and are intended to be highly interactive, but this was the first time he’d spoken. In fact, it was the first time he’d spoken since arriving a few days earlier. It may have just been a playful heckle, but it was a start.

I told him the baseballs were all at my house and then added, “Brother, if you uncross your arms and participate by sharing from your heart before the night’s over, I’ll personally come back this week and hand deliver one to you.”

The night continued, stories were shared, tears were shed, notes were taken. At the very end of the evening, these guys have an opportunity to craft and share their personal commitment, something they were going to do not only for the remainder of the week, but for the rest of their lives. 

After several tremendous shares, a hand elevated on my left. The gentleman from earlier stood and shared a commitment to not just endure life anymore, but to begin truly living it again. I walked over to him, gave him a hug, looked him in the eyes and told him I’d see him later this week.

Well, “later this week” was Friday morning – or that commitment I made was going to become a lie. 

So I pulled myself out of bed, got in a shower, grabbed a bunch of cough drops and made the early morning trip back to this retreat center. As I drove down the windy, gravel road and passed the barracks, the sun rose over the rustic conference center, reflecting off the lake and lit up the American flag flying over it.

Taken aback by Marine’s response

I walked in as they were finishing breakfast, and the commanding officer welcomed me back. He handed me a microphone and with a raspy voice I told the guys I was sick, but had made a commitment to one of their fellow Marines. I shared that my kids and I picked one our favorite players to give him.

The Marine – let’s call him Tim – walked up, gave me a massive hug and with tears in his eyes took the baseball and held it high. 


He then walked back to his table, retrieved something, came back to the stage and took the microphone. The man who wouldn’t speak days ago shared “I wasn’t sure if you’d be back, but wanted to have something to give you.”  With that, he handed me a baseball signed by all 60 Marines present.

I’d given a baseball personalized to me in 1987 by a St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer. That ball helped re-teach me to write, and to re-engage in society. It was incredibly meaningful… and hard to give away.

And yet, something far more valuable had just been given in return. Now I was the one with tears in my eyes.

As the room of Marines stood and roared their approval, Tim spoke one more time, saying, “John, although I appreciate this baseball you gave me, I can’t take it.” There was a long pause, he collected his emotions and thoughts, then added, “This baseball needs to stay here, at FOCUS, so every other Marine that comes here is reminded that we aren’t alone, that people care and that our best remains ahead.”

With that, Tim handed his baseball to the commanding officer. The room of Marines again leapt to their feet.

As vibrant, life-filled, hope-fueled emotion filled the room, it was impossible not to be moved by the gift Tim had just given not only those heroes present and the future classes to follow, but also to me.

[This week on the Live Inspired Podcast I talk with another hero. Smitty Harris, who spent almost eight years as a POW in Vietnam. Enduring abuse, neglect, torture and hardship he shares his story through the lens of a man blessed with nine decades of living, bursting with gratitude, and a beacon for the power of forgiveness.  His wife, Louise, joins us too. Check out their emotional, honest, beautiful story here.]

My friends, what should we do with the gifts we’ve received? How should we use our treasures? What do we do with all the trophies we collect?

For three decades, I’ve stored a bunch of them on a shelf in my house.

Maybe it’s time to stop laying up our treasures. Maybe the truly rich are aware that the more they give to others, the more they have for themselves. [Tweet this]

It was a lesson I learned from Jack Buck and had forgotten.

It’s a lesson one Marine taught me again last week.

And it’s a lesson we’d all benefit from heeding in our lives today.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

P.S. – Click here to learn more about the life-changing work of FOCUS Marines Foundation

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