My sister lives in New Jersey, so to get to her from here, I drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There are these green reflective signs, every tenth of a mile that illuminate your progress. 289.8, 289.9, 290.0, and on and on. Sometimes it feels like each sign is separated by forever, others fly by so fast I miss them entirely, 289.9 to 301 in a blink. The point is, they’re helpful to show us where we are along the journey to wherever we’re headed. Like the arrow on the mall directory (when there were still malls) that said “You Are Here.”
Sometimes in our lives, we get those same kind of markers. We were there, and now we’re here. Maybe that’s not the greatest news, right? I don’t wear the same size pants that I wore in high school, and when I bought the bigger size, I had to face the new marker. But maybe it’s great, too. What I’m thinking about (and lamenting) is how often we get so distracted by the pieces that we don’t ever take a moment to step back and see the whole picture. We don’t know how we got here because we don’t really even know where here is.
Last week, the baseball season began for the team I coach. Our first game was against our cross town rivals and we lost on a walk-off in the bottom of the last inning. It was a heartbreaker and I won’t bore you with details because you might not care at all about youth sports, but let me just tell you I made a terrible decision on the last play of the game. If you make a terrible decision in the first inning that costs a run, it’s still a run, but the one in the last inning (ESPECIALLY the last play!!!!) feels worse, like you lost the game. I gathered the boys and told them the mistake I made and why it was such a bad mistake, apologized, then reminded the boys that the sun will come up in the morning and it’ll be a new day. They all made mistakes, too, and needed to know mistakes happen and do not define them. A 16u loss is not the sum total of my life and it won’t be theirs either.
Having said that, I sat on that bench long after everyone else left thinking about that 1 mistake. Maybe the sun wouldn’t come up the next day for me, right? When I was young, playing baseball through college, a loss would leave my soul in ruins for days. A loss in a championship game where I made the error on the last play (which I had) for months. I can still see the ball rolling under my glove in nightmares. I would snap at friends and family, cry in my room, and feed the monster that was always berating me, telling me I was not now and would never be good enough. This sharp steel tether to my performance cost me so much of my life. I didn’t want that for my boys on that team, wanted them to give everything they had for each other, to the game, empty themselves on the field, and sleep like babies, knowing they had given all. Mostly because I want them – and you and me – to give all to everything in their lives; their God, marriages, children, jobs, careers, relationships, everything they decide has value.
But like so much else, it is for them. Not me. I let them down. I failed. Which as we all know leads down a short severe path to I am not enough, I am a failure.
I sat on that bench, watching the sun go down. But here’s the thing; that familiar path never came. I was heartbroken, I made a mistake (and I hope I don’t make it again), we lost, and I expected the emotional wreckage to wash over me like it had for so many years. It didn’t.
Yep. I made a mistake. Losing stinks, especially to that team. And now what?
It’s not every day we see such clear mile markers that show us where we are, so when they come, we have to pay attention. We may not be where we’re going yet, but we’re not where we were and that is a big deal that needs to be noticed and appreciated. That night, after seeing the marker of who and where I am, how far I have come from that sad broken boy I was, I stood up, fully present and fully grateful. Then I went straight home, kissed the Angel and slept peacefully.