Living Proof the Book
EYE WITNESS TO GRACE
Some Men See things as they are… and ask why?
Others dream things that can be, and ask why not?
-Nobel Laureate, George Bernard Shaw
The Date: May 29, 2008
Aboard Air Force One
As the presidential aircraft prepared to touch down at New Century Airport in Olathe Kansas, the last leg of a three day cross-country trip that took us through four states (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado), I peered out the window just off the right wing of the air craft in reflection. The first few decades of life: challenges, obstacles and achievements passed through my mind. And I wondered what the future would bring. The trip was a blur of events: visits to small businesses, statements on the economy, a commencement address to the 2008 graduating class of U.S. Air Force Academy and a few fundraisers peppered amidst the official events. While it was a tremendous amount of work to accomplish, any sense of fatigue was outweighed by the overwhelming sense of gratitude I felt for the unique and rare privilege to work for and travel with the president. As I looked out the window of Air Force One, a flood of contradictory emotions coursed through me.
See, 29 years prior I was prematurely born as the undesirable byproduct of a 19-year-old prostitutes’ “night of work.” In the technical sense of the word my birth mother was a crack whore, a person who fed her appetite for drugs and her alcoholic thirst for booze by turning tricks to the highest bidder. Sometimes the tricks led to money which led to drugs. Other times the tricks just led to drugs.
While my mind raced, recapping nearly 30 years of life, a question surfaced in my mind, “Who would have ever believed or imagined that the illegitimate son of a drug and alcohol abusing 19-year-old crack whore, who would end up flunking kindergarten, would ever amount to anything much less fly with the President aboard Air Force One?” As I reflected on the grace that brought me this far, my thoughts turned to one person in particular who made this daunting feat possible.
She was waiting on the tarmac in Kansas with a big hug and a smile.
With the leader of our country receiving national security briefings in his presidential suite, I asked myself a question that I had asked several times before, “What really makes someone a great leader; a hero? What qualities must one possess to reach the highest pedestal of our admiration and become the apple of our eye?” It seems that our nation is on a continuous search for heroes and leaders of supernatural ability. Is it the number of points they score in a basketball game or how many strokes below par they golf? Is it the ability to captivate audiences and inspire nations to come together and meet the challenges of our time? Is it walking on the moon? Finding a cure for cancer? These characteristics, though very much the attributes of heroes we have heard of – or yet hope to know, are still the talents of such a small percentage of the population that it is unlikely we will ever see them in someone we know.
Or will we?
To be sure authentic heroes quietly cross our paths each day, unrecognizable to a degree because they are not defined or classified cosmetically, rather, they can be identified by their core characteristics. There is a greater number than we realize because they go about their daily lives unnoticed and sadly, more often than not, unappreciated. Yet, these heroes, these testaments to true leadership, are more tangible than any professional sports superstar or astronaut. They are the genuine witnesses of moral virtue. They are more influential than any politician, statesmen, billionaire or actor. Yet they literally fly under the radar, with their bright red heroic capes of selfless sacrifice. Through their discipline, love, encouragement and unwavering determination we are inspired to reach for something more than we are. They lead us to invest in the promise of a future that is already laid out should we only have the courage to think big, step outside of ourselves and cast aside our fears.
I am the son of a hero and she is my mom.
I never really got to know the woman who gave birth to me, but I was fortunate to grow up with my mom at my side. My adopted mother’s life is the purest testament to decency, honor and integrity that I’ve ever seen; the virtues of any aspiring leader or would-be hero. Dorothy Lee Boyce would never, in a million years, define herself in this way. But I and many others who have benefited from the full measure of her devotion can testify on her behalf. I know, without doubt, were it not for her example of leadership and constant sacrifice I would never have thought it possible to work for the President of the United States. If asked whether super heroes exist in a world filled with sad stories, disaster and disappointments, I along with the rest of my seven sisters and five brothers can say full heartedly, “Yes they do!”
Thursday, May 29, 2008 wasn’t just another day at the “office” for me, but an important anniversary and life milestone. As a 10-day-old premature infant weighing just over four- pounds twenty-nine years prior, I was placed at her doorstep as a foster care child by the Division of Family Services (DFS). May 29th serves as a second birthday for me because it was the day I truly arrived at home and began my life. And 29 years to the day that I came to her doorstep, my mother Dorothy and my father Larry watched Air Force One touch – down at a small airport in Kansas with me aboard. The day was made even more special because of the surprise we had in store for them. One of the pilots had agreed to give them a VIP tour of one of the most magnificent planes on earth.
I asked a friend of mine who was staying on board while we went to the event to point out for my mom where I sat. Knowing she would pass by that seat, I quickly wrote a brief note. “Mom, I love you and thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I hope you and Dad enjoy the tour! – Lucas”
New Century Airport in Olathe Kansas
Approximately 1:00 PM
When the three story presidential aircraft rolled to a stop, I deplaned at the tail-end with the rest of the junior staff and press. The sky was clear, with it nearing one o’clock in the afternoon, the cement tarmac was quite warm; typical Midwest weather for that time of year. It was obvious the cool of spring was preparing to yield to the humid heat of summer. I anxiously scanned the waiting crowd looking for that familiar face, until I noticed my mother waving her arms excitedly. She was easy to spot, especially since she was the only one jumping up and down, an obvious annoyance to the Secret Service agents who were posted there.
She was beaming from ear to ear and a smile crept across my own face. “My hero.”
A little concerned at her obvious animation, the Secret Service Agent tried to get control. “Excuse me Miss- Miss! Please stay in one spot. The plane is landing. You can’t keep running back and forth.” Mom didn’t want to miss seeing me deplane. She was normally a very soft spoken individual and not one for public disturbance. My mom saw the agent’s mouth moving but in her excitement pretended not to hear his rebuke. Never mind the crisp black suit, stern look, dark Ray Ban sun-glasses, an ear piece and a gun! “I have to get a good photo,” she tried to reason with him. “My son is on the plane!”
She could hardly contain her excitement and to be honest neither could I! I walked across the tarmac to the barricade and gave her and my dad a big hug. I told her and my father I loved them and to enjoy the tour. Then I scurried to the waiting motorcade before I got left behind. A few hours later when the presidential entourage returned to the airport for the 2 hour flight back to Washington DC, a white piece of paper caught my eye as I took my seat. My mom had returned the favor and had written a reply.
“Dear Lucas, waiting to board for this tour, I thought of “our” life & your life – and its more than humbling, isn’t it? Thank you for giving us this day! Thank you for your good, sharing life. We love you so much! Mom & Dad. And I miss you.”
As I read the note my eyes filled with tears. I could only imagine where I would be without the grace of my God and the adoptive mother he divinely appointed me to be with. Sitting aboard Air Force One, serving at the White House, working as an executive for the NBA’s Orlando Magic or accomplishing any of my other life goals would not have been possible without her life intermingling with my own. As a result, I’m very cognizant of the fact that when grace and hard work meet opportunity anything can happen. I’m also keenly aware that these dreams were not obtained by my strength alone, nor my ability but that which God has given.
I believe that if you want to be the greatest, the leader, or the ultimate achiever you must be willing to be the servant of all. While this is not an original thought, I saw this belief system first hand in the way my mother served and lead our family of ten and later thirteen. My mother’s unfailing desire to give others a life of quality and meaning puts her on the level of our superstars and our greatest heroes.
This is my hope; that I can encourage people with her example by sharing what it has meant for me and so many others. Personal history or external conditions outside of our control don’t have to determine our future trajectory, success and/or fulfillment. While some may view past and present conditions as an eternal harness and cause for inaction or paralysis, our obstacles and limitations become irrelevant when we understand our life purpose and are willing to reach for something more.
My experience compels me to believe our current station or where we start in life doesn’t matter. We’ve got to buy into what matters most; where we are going and the opportunity each of us have to shape our own destiny. Each of us were built for something more and I’m living proof of that fact.