All In

(image via

(image via

Picture this. Your only brother's son is a senior in college. He is about to begin his final semester but emotionally is starting to crash and burn. Depressed, alienated and suicidal, his completion of a degree seems unlikely at best, his very life in jeopardy. He lives three hours away and you are a busy person with a full life. What would you do? Plan a visit? Call weekly? Maybe even pay for some therapy? All good and loving responses, but do they reflect your true and unconditional love? Are they actions that match the easy words we bandy about such as "family", "commitment" and "sacrifice".

This was the issue recently facing an old friend. And his response was nothing short of inspirational and stunning. Starting the first of the year, he is moving in with his nephew for the semester--a permanent roommate and support system to help his brother's son graduate from college.

He told me, "I figured if I'm there I can be a friend, uncle and guide. I can make sure he keeps at it, graduates and hopefully turns his life around. He's got a good chance if he gets his degree. If not, he'll regret it for the rest of his life. We'll get an apartment together, hang out and I'll do what needs to be done. Of course, I'll also keep him safe."

What enhances this story is that my friend is married, has a full life (job, friends, etc.) and is sixty-one years old. This will require some significant shifts on his part and the part of his wife. I think it is a remarkable response of love and compassion and one that leaves me questioning my own levels of sacrifice to what I truly value. My friend is also a very passionate poker player, and has a great love and talent for the game. This is especially true for the most popular of all poker games, "Texas Hold Em". On more than one occasion I have seen him go "all in", betting his entire stake on one hand. It seems to be in his nature to occasionally make a stand that literally puts his money where his mouth is. It is this nature, I believe, which allows him to take such a full-hearted commitment for his nephew's life.

I am reminded that the word "commitment" comes from Latin, committere, meaning "to keep safe" or "to be on a mission of safety". In this season of professed love and sacrifice, it is humbling to witness one who quietly and with great dignity has put it all on the line for what he believes. For my friend it's no big deal; words and actions need to be aligned.

I think it is a valuable exercise for us all at the start of this new year, to honestly ask ourselves, "For whom or what am I truly willing to go all in?"