baseball

Our Why

As you are probably very well aware, I care for youth sports a great deal and coach when I am qualified (which meant soccer and basketball when the kids were young and needed more of a babysitter than a coach and means only baseball now.) Every year there is a shortage of volunteers and that’s sometimes depressing even if it is predictable. The truth is, if I had an ounce of good sense, I wouldn’t do it either.

The most common guess is that nobody does it because of the time commitment, but that’s not true. Like everything else, we make time for what we value. If she says she doesn’t have time to call you back, it’s not because she doesn’t have time, it’s because she doesn’t have time to call you. Most parents who “don’t have time” are at all the games and always have time to write nasty texts about their future major leaguer’s playing time.

Having said that, parents are usually the biggest obstacle. As a parent of 2 athletes, I am comfortable saying that we are the absolute worst. We think our kids are the most talented, sweetest, hardest working people who have ever graced a field or laced up a pair of sneakers. Sure, we’re wrong, but that hardly matters. It only matters when you are the coach, like I am, and you’re honest that your son will get all of the preferential treatment possible.

Players are next in line. I find myself saying “nowadays,” “when I was young,” and “we used to ___” more than I ever thought I could. Yes, kids are different, probably because of the last paragraph, but they’re not monsters. They’re not all monsters.

You should know that I’m writing because, late last week, all of the coaches got an email detailing the myriad of ways we were misbehaving and the consequences we would face if we were to continue acting like petulant babies overflowing with insecurity and bad judgment. At that moment it became obvious that coaching wasn’t the most thankless position, it’s league president. Now why would anybody want to do that???

But I know why. And I know why I continue to choose to ignore my own good sense. It’s precisely because of all of the reasons not to engage.

We give our time to kids who need someone to trust, to count on, who will look at them, see them and to trust them back. To the kids who need fresh words and new stories believed and spoken about them. That is a far superior use of our moments than Netflix or scrolling through social media or even more hours of overtime. By giving our most valuable resource, these kids see that time isn’t our most valuable resource after all, they are.

We serve the parents (or the coaches serve us) because more people loving our children is muuuuch better than less.

But it’s the kids that give us our real why. I see a boy in my weight room who comes in every day. I ask everyone to do 7 sets of everything because it’s the number of completion, of wholeness. 7 because of Genesis 1. I sometimes ask him to do 8, because in John’s gospel, he gives 7 “signs” and then continues with an 8th (which is the resurrection of Jesus), signifying a new week (!!!!) and a new creation. I ask him to do 8 because he’s becoming a new person. He listens, or pretends to. And today after the 7th, he looks me in the eye and says, “I’m doing 8.” He is why we do any of it.

It’s how we love and it’s how, in whatever small or gigantic way we can, tell stories of a whole new world, one practice at a time.

(I have nothing to say about the miserable behavior in the email. There’s always one or two, isn’t there? 😉

What If You Do?

At a baseball game last night, we lost. That’s ok. I don’t ever mind wins and losses. (Well, I do a little…sometimes more than a little.) What I do mind is the how. How did we play? How did we compete? How did we show up? How did we carry ourselves? How was our mindset? How how how.

So last night our how was rough. I saw it in their eyes, their countenance, their posture, and just as a positive how elicits a favorable result (not always a win, but always something good), our loss was a direct translation of our how. It’s mostly that way in our careers, marriages, homes, our lives, right? We often sleep-walk through the ruts & routines of our days. We’re tired, uninspired, listless, frustrated, passive and the tapes in our head keep us firmly stuck in that loop. Maybe it’s settling for less, or maybe it’s just a lack of vision. Maybe it’s just that our eyes are closed to the opportunities, the beauty, the glory of God crackling all around us desperately trying to jar us from our despair.

In an weekly email I subscribe to, Caitlin Winkley writes, “Are your thoughts contributing to the type of woman you want to be, the type of life you’d like to live and how you want to feel?

Or, are your thoughts fueling your old story, leading you to feel worry, doubt, unsurety, powerless and fearful?”

(I don’t know why she assumes everyone on her email list is a woman, but I really don’t care. She’s awesome and this is wisdom for everybody, regardless of any demographic category. This might be a very good time to discuss the things that offend us, but we’re discussing other things today…I DID read once that we get offended by small things when we don’t have big things to think/care about and give our energies to, so that’s all we’ll say about that here, now.)

Do we need a renewal of the mind? Did each of my players last night live into a picture of the “type of woman” he wants to be? Did they give what they had to give and feel how they want to feel? Did I?

Are we doing that today at work or school or wherever?

OR are we feeling doubt, worry, unsurety, powerlessness? Are we overrun by fear?

Unsure is the perfect word, isn’t it? Because those adjectives she uses are paralyzing, making our feet heavy and still, holding us tightly to the ground when we have always been meant to fly. And then the tapes: Really??? Are you really meant to fly? You??? What if you fall? What if you are wrong? What if you don’t have what it takes?

What I have learned, even as I too often listen to those familiar tapes in my head, is that those questions aren’t that far removed from, “Did God really tell you…” from Genesis 3. They were lies then and they are lies now.

What if you swing and miss? What if you don’t catch it? What if you make a bad throw? What if you give all you have and still lose? What if you fall? What if you’re wrong?

What if if you don’t have what it takes?

And the obvious answer is, to paraphrase a famous parable, “Oh but my darling, what if you do?”

Sports might not always be the perfect metaphor for everything (I guess), but they are very close.

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that. 

Yet Another Post About Youth Baseball

I am finished coaching baseball for the year, and I am equal parts disappointed and thrilled.

This weekend we will not be playing in the state tournament for 13 and 14 year old all-stars. Baseball is strange (and that is, of course, what makes it so great.) Samuel’s team played a best-of-3 series with a Harrisburg area all-star team and, in the first, Saturday morning, pounded them 14-2 in a 5 inning mercy rule game. The second, after 4 innings, we were ahead 5-0 and planning our trip and hotel accommodations. In the next 2 1/2 innings, we were handed a 9-5 loss. This forced us to come back for Sunday afternoon and the wrong end of a 17-6 whipping. What looked like an easy coasting to the next step turned to mush in our hands. Baseball, right?

Samuel, for his part, played very well, but baseball is a game where everything you hit can be solid and hard and you can come away empty. That’s just what he did, with great frustration. I keep reminding him that you can also hit everything softly off the end of the bat and find every hole and go 4-4. He didn’t care about my wisdom. Not even a little.

I thought the team was pretty good, pleasantly surprising me in other ways off the field. The kids were kind and encouraging, the best players were leaders and, at least for 2 days, displayed the sort of character that made me feel like the future was sunny and everything was possible (if not winning a 3 game series.) I told a few of the boys and wanted to call each of their parents. 

This was a stark contrast to our summer team (ages 13-16). I thought this team was pretty good, too, and also surprising off the field. This just wasn’t a good surprise. I expected the older kids, fresh from high school ball to encourage the younger, wide-eyed newbies, to show them what it meant to be ballplayers, where to go on a steal, who the cut-off man is, how to spot a pitcher’s tendencies, and most importantly, what a team looked like, felt like, and what winning required inside each of them. Sadly, the mood crashed the day they came, 2 weeks after practice had began for those not yet playing for the school. With one very notable exception, the boys were clique-ish and sarcastic, choosing to mock and tear down rather than build. Of course, they didn’t take coaching well, usually disrespectful, rarely listening and often saying “No” to instruction on the field (ON THE FIELD!!!!) – after all, they are early teenagers and we all understand that all we’ll ever learn we’ve already learned by our thirteenth birthday, right? They were nasty and mean to each other as well as the requisite muttering behind backs (even to their ‘buddies’ in their own clique.) They clearly didn’t like each other, and to me, the most heartbreaking part of that truth is what it tries to hide: they don’t like themselves. Their insecurity (not only theirs, theirs is just more obvious because of the outward nastiness) worn on their sleeves like a sponsors logo directed every word and move. 

It was an environment that caused my soul to ache every day. What could I do to affect some change? What could I do to speak fresh words into such negative self-regard? What could I do??? I tried many approaches, to varying degrees of failure. The questions still haunt, and the nagging new question: did I let these broken boys down? I guess I probably did. Sigh.

I also coached a team of younger boys (under 14) from 3 different areas. We were, by all accounts and measures, terrible. I believe they have far more ability than even they would guess that needs to be coaxed into the light, and we made strides. We were always able to find encouraging details to build on, even in the middle of mounting losses.

I will say this, though, about those boys. I loved every moment of our short time together. I told all of those boys that I liked them so much “they could come and live with me” (HA!) and I actually did contact most of the parents (I will end up contacting all of the parents) to appreciate their children. 

I guess the point is that hardly anything is ever just one thing. Sometimes you play well and lose, sometimes you lose and have a great time, sometimes the worst thing is the best, sometimes you’re depressed and thrilled, sometimes you’re full of gratitude and regret.

I spoke at a funeral yesterday (an experience that deserves its own space, which I will give another day, but…) and my funeral messages usually concern this duality, and I offer my own humble permission to feel everything. The Scriptures have an underlying honesty that God, at the very least, allows. Allows? I would say the truth is much closer to ‘demands’ or ‘requires.’

So. 

It’s now around a week later and I am still looking at this, still on this screen, yet to be made public, and I’m only this morning seeing the irony in my hesitance. You see, I’ve been waiting because of the paragraph on the older team. I lost a good friend once because similar feelings, observations, and words about kids (1 in particular) I had coached proved me, to her, harshly judgmental in my assessment. I understand her perspective, I probably did look like a man who had written off these kids and closed the book, rigidly deciding who they were and who they would be. If there was a misunderstanding, it was only in the finality of my opinion. I hold all of this loosely, only an observation, hopefully wishing to open my hands and pick up a new one. The 1 that cost me a friendship did indeed have some of the qualities I perceived. But that was then. One year later, he had grown and matured – as most people do – and I would no longer say those things. Not only would I not say them, I no longer think those things. He is different. And (hopefully) so am I. So are you. 

Every day, I drove to the teener practice crossing my fingers that this would be the day that a big red switch would be flipped and they would step into the next phase of their development. Each evening, I mourned that another day passed in the old patterns, and each morning, I saw them with new eyes. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

The irony is that this post is about honesty – and here I am hesitating to communicate in an authentic fashion, wondering if I should… 

I should. We are in the business of offering all of who we are, even the ugly parts, and allowing them to move and change and transform into who we will be. Ignoring, or hiding, them leaves them unseen and unchanged. Swept out of sight, unacknowledged, we stay who we are, and that is the only unacceptable outcome. 

This post also concerns things not being just one thing. You’re not just a nurse or a lawyer or a pastor or a teacher or a wife, and neither am I and neither are they and neither is any moment of our lives. I held off on posting this because I didn’t want to be misunderstood again, but maybe I will be. And that’ll be ok. These kids are not one thing, now or ever, and they are certainly not today who they will be in 1 or 2 or 15 years. I don’t ever close any books. Nothing is final.

No, that’s not true. Some things are final. But we aren’t. We’re works in progress. 

Today is not just an extension of yesterday. It isn’t just what it is. 

Except this post. It is exactly what it is. And I’m posting it before it gets any longer.            

A Quick Story On The Significance Of Small Things

It’s interesting how often we neglect the smallish, seemingly unimportant elements of our lives, apparently preferring to wait until those elements build a wall that is impossible to ignore. We ignore the toothpaste cap on the counter until it grows into the minty fresh monster that tore apart our once-beautiful relationship, and we wonder how it happened. I eat a peanut or a piece of chocolate here and there and here and there again until I no longer recognize myself in the mirror, wondering how it all got away. In the Bible, David harmlessly stayed home one season and, the next thing he knew, he was arranging the death of his buddy to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Small things aren’t very small at all.

Here’s a quick story with a happy ending:    

Once, there was a boy on a baseball team who looked just like a ballplayer. He was tall and athletic, as strong and muscular as a 12 year-old can be. Walking on the field, he appeared to have all of what older ballplayers call “the tools.” The only problem was that he couldn’t catch a ball, warmups or infield/outfield practice, ground balls or fly balls. No matter where the ball was or how hard it was hit, he simply could not corral it into his glove cleanly.

Why? Was he saddled with hands of stone, poor hand-eye coordination, garden variety fear, or a rare condition that made it impossible for him to catch baseballs? Was he a lost cause? Should he just pack his stuff and take up a sport that takes no coordination or athletic ability, like soccer? (HAHA! That is one terrific sports joke!!)

His coach noticed one day, while watching him fumble ball after ball like so many hot potatoes, that his glove was rigid and unforgiving. This coach took that glove home over the weekend, worked some oil into the leather and kneaded it like dough.

And at the next practice after that weekend, miraculously, that boy could catch baseballs! He didn’t have stone hands (well, maybe a little) or a baseball phobia (maybe a little of that, too), what he did have was an innocent disregard for small things, a blind spot for details. And what looked like an insurmountable mountain was actually a tiny speed bump that was navigated easily.

The End.

Maybe he would’ve given up baseball because he couldn’t catch – and not being able to catch is a big deal.

Maybe we would’ve walked out because he’s a slob or she’s so disrespectful she won’t even put the cap back on – 2 characteristics that are big deals.

Maybe I would’ve kept eating because I don’t have any will power and it’s hopeless to try – a brand and a mindset that are very big deals.

Now, all of these are pretty big deals, they just also happen to be only pieces of stories that may or may not be true. He could catch (his glove just wasn’t given the proper love and attention,) he wasn’t a hog or disrespectful (just oblivious to the effects of his lack of intention to what he perceived as trivial,) I do have willpower (maybe not much, but I don’t need it as much if I make the decision to not keep peanuts and chocolate in the house, right?) and changing a mindset just takes some mindfulness and practice.

The point is, it’s the small things that matter. Everything matters when we’re building the structures of our lives. A giant building starts with one brick, one tiny decision after another, then before you know it, you’re different, a better version of you, closer to who you’ve been created to be. 

3 Examples of Weight in Real Time

We’ve been discussing weight and value and our ability to choose and leave behind the hopelessness of victimhood in our daily lives. Next time, the tone will shift to the way these minor choices can affect our lives in major ways, increasing our presence and peace. 

But first, this week I had (at least) 3 opportunities to practice weight that illustrate perfectly the water we’ve been swimming in.  

A nearby theater does a super-cool thing where they play an older film for free at 10am on Tuesdays, and for months I had been anxiously waiting for this Tuesday, April 2, and Fight Club. Everybody knows Fight Club is my absolute favorite movie and The Most Spiritual Movie Ever (and I’m mostly not kidding about that, and I promise I’ll eventually write a detailed defense of that position.) I invited several of the men in our church community to experience this together, with me, and have our minds blown and souls filled together. Then Monday, I picked my oldest son up from school and he looked like he had been run over, the kind of look that, instead of “Hey buddy,” requires “Oh no! What happened to you?” He had managed to make it through the season relatively unscathed by the illness everyone else suffered through until now. I hoped and prayed that it would move through him in a night and he’d wake up new and healthy, hopes and prayers that went unanswered (I say that, but maybe they were answered. Maybe the answer was just no.) 

I had a choice to make. I could call someone to watch him. I could go, and leave him home alone. I could ask my wife to take a sick day to be with him. I could stay with him. I’m sure there are more. I guess I could even take him with me. I had no shortage of options. 

But I work from home for many reasons. One of the very biggest is so my boys (or my special lady) would have their daddy (or husband) right next to them to fill their water, feed them tissues, rub their feet, or worse, hold their hair while they, um, fill a bucket. But the “right next to them” is the point. I usually don’t do any other work, I just am.

BUT THIS WAS FIGHT CLUB!!! It long ago passed through its theatrical release, how often do you get to see a life-changing movie on the big screen with your brothers? He would understand, right? Of course he would.

I didn’t go to Fight Club, we watched DVD’s of Three’s Company instead. Some things weigh more and, as it turned out I didn’t have much of a choice to make at all. I had already made it, long before the circumstance dictated a decision.

Next.

We have a gathering at the Bridge where we eat pizza together and talk about all sorts of things that come up – we thoroughly enjoy each other. This lovely space was scheduled for last night. Last night, I also had baseball practice. No, I don’t play (I’m much too old and my knees and ankles hurt and crack far too much), but I do help to coach. 

The Bridge is my priority, my job, and the people there are my family. No question as to weight here, right?

The son who was sick had recovered and Thursday was his first baseball practice of the year, first practice with a new team on a newly expanded field, first practice at an entirely new level. 

I coach baseball for 1 reason and 1 reason alone, and they live in this house. I coach to spend time with my sons. (The relationships I’ve made with other coaches is second. As a matter of fact, baseball itself is pretty low on the list of why’s. Of course, I do love baseball, have always loved baseball, but the best part of baseball is my dad. I can love baseball and my dad from home.) 

On the field (or basketball court), we worship the God who gave us these amazing physical gifts, we face challenges and our own fears, we do hard things, we learn to pick ourselves up, we discover what we are capable of, we love. 

And we walk into firsts together.     

I went to practice and it was awesome. He was awesome. I missed my Bridge family terribly. No one ever said this discernment of weight was easy, Saying yes to something means saying no to lots of other somethings.

One more. 

I get up early to go to the gym around 4am. This requires me to go to bed before 9, sometimes well before 9. My wife mentioned Tuesday night that she might like me to be up later, until at least 9, so she might have a bit more time with a conscious me. 

There are a million choices to be made in just this tiny example. Do I no longer go at 4? But what about the reasons I decided to go at 4 in the first place? What about sleep? How much do I need? She would surely deal with it easily if I still went down early. But what would that say, about her, about weight, about priority? To live at as high of a level as I value, I do need sleep. But I also need to work out. And most importantly, I need my wife to understand her significance. 

Sooooooo. You’ll forgive me if I’m a little tired this week because I’m now a night owl.

Next time, we’ll talk about a GIANT question Jesus asks. But for now, I’m going to take a nap.