When my family moved to rural Virginia, I was 14 years old and petulant about the move. I didn’t like the new place; I didn’t like being so far away from the people and mountains I loved; I didn’t like living – quite literally – out in the middle of nowhere on 3,500 acres in the midst of a county that didn’t even have a stoplight.
But on Sundays, we went to church, and I sat in a classroom full of military academy cadets from the local boarding high school and listened to this loud man with a strange Southern accent talk about what it meant to be a person who lived for God. This guy was lanky and goofy – the kind of person you might think would be ignored or whispered about at the back of the room. But none of that happened because, within minutes of meeting him, every person knew that Coach Arritt was a man worthy of respect. He was worthy because he always respected you, knew your name, and took the time to greet you when you came in the room.
Sometimes, I’d see him running along the roads of our small town putting in his many, many miles on the road. Sometimes, I’d see him at the military academy on Sunday afternoons when I went up to see the boys I knew there in parades. I’m sure Coach knew my motives were hormonal in large part, but he never made me feel bad about being who I was at that moment in my life. He always just said, “Ms. Cumbo, how are you today?” listened to my answer, and then said, “It’s good to see you.” Respectful all the way.
For four years I sat in his classroom and listened to him talk. He asked questions sometimes, but he’s more of that old-school lecturer. To be honest, I can’t remember the themes of any of his lessons, or any particular passages of Scripture he pointed out. But I do remember this advice because it is some of the best I have ever received:
If you want to really show people you care and that your reason for caring is Jesus, live your life to show you care. Your words don’t matter much, but your actions, those are what count.
I have never forgotten that wisdom, and it has been the best advice I have ever been given about how to share my faith with other people.
Today, Coach Arritt will coach his last home basketball game. He’s been coaching for years and years – I can’t remember off-hand, right now – and people have, rightly, honored him for his ability to coach young men in both the game and life. But today, on this day that will inevitably be hard for him, I want to honor him for another reason. I want to honor him as a man who taught me through his actions AND his words what it means to be a true believer and witness for what is good and true in this life. This is why I will be at his game tonight because, as he taught me, sometimes words just don’t cut it – people need to see actions to know we care.
Thank you, Coach Arritt. Thank you.