basketball

Unknown

Last week, I wrote a post from inside the process. This is only noteworthy because it so rarely happens. We have gotten accustomed to stories with an arc; beginning, middle, and end. A story without an end leaves us in varying degrees of discomfort. Where are we? What is happening? And most importantly, will everything be ok?

I got several messages asking these questions, looking for resolution, from people I love very much and who love me back. My sister (The Best Sister In The World) sent the first, on her lunch break, then hearing that I was in fact better than ok, she was able to return to work. People are just wonderful.

But I think we’ve been mislead somewhere along the way, and it was last week that started me down this path. Because I was so happy and full, if a little confused and unsure in the middle of this swirl of information trying to find cohesion, it was strange that those I love so dearly would be concerned. The path is dangerous, but nothing worthwhile ever comes without it, so maybe our ideas of good & bad, desirable and un-, should be re-arranged. Maybe the things that make us uncomfortable should be welcomed with a bit more hospitality, because the ‘us’ that we will become is so valuable. Maybe the uncertainty of the journey is the catalyst for the stretching that will leave us transformed. Maybe we should, as this brilliant fitness guy I follow online (Aadam Ali, Physiqonomics) says, “embrace the suck.”

Sure, we don’t want to, but the only way is through.

I was struggling with words and judgment because not everything I see, hear, and experience is for public display. Before I write or speak about anything or anyone, I have to discern if it is personal and/or the person would not appreciate seeing his or her name on a website or Sunday morning. That’s not always easy. As you have probably figured out, I think everything should be out in the open, where the light can reach it. We have these stories of defeat or celebration, with everything in between, for each other to glean from, to find hope or belonging or acceptance or encouragement. We find that we are not alone, and that’s probably what we’re all looking for anyway, right? Even more than we want to know why, we want someone’s hand to hold in the unknown.

BUT I might not be in the majority in this, and other’s stories are not mine to tell.

Last week was the last week of basketball for my boys and that brings with it a full, heavy load of contrasting emotions. There are things I’d like to protect them from (teenaged boys can be awfully frightened, insecure animals and act out of those fears in inhuman fashion) and behaviors I’d like to shield them from, but there are also vital lessons that are learned there, about themselves and their teammates. They find courage and the will to do the hard things that are so rewarding, as well as pride in themselves and their hard work.

Now. I do this work for lots of reasons and sometimes, like today, I find the reason mid-stream.

I had trouble last week making sense of all of this chaos…because there was no end. My boys are still working their way through it as well, we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Will the locker-room nastiness and fake boyhood posturing jade them or will they rebel against a culture of comparison and competition, where we tear each other down in a misguided attempt to build ourselves up? Who knows???? I want to text them from the end and ask if they are ok, if everything turned out for the best, just like my friends did with me, but there is no end here. Maybe there’s never an end, here. Maybe it’s just all the journey, different steps on the path, different heights on the mountain, with slips and falls and leaps and bounds.

Maybe we just keep taking steps, embracing the suck, eyes wide open for the beauty in the midst, remembering (and reminding each other) to trust that this story was never ours to begin with – it’s God’s, and He is still with us, has never abandoned us – and holding each other’s hands in the unknown.

Basketball Season, v. 2: ELCO

We had a basketball game Tuesday evening. Well, we didn’t, my son did – I tried to play basketball in the fall and have very little business playing basketball. And they won again! They were down big early, and fought back to finally take the lead with a minute left in the game – it was an epic comeback (as epic as junior varsity gets, but everything is relative) in a hostile environment (well, ELCO) that exposed the heart and resilience of the boys.

There are just a two observations I’d like to make about this game…

Last year, the team Samuel was on was just terrible. They won 1 game and were mauled all the rest. And this house had near-daily conversations about character and how we get up after we are knocked down. When they got behind early, a comeback was impossible. Instead, as shoulders began to slump, finger pointing and pouting would bury them and early deficits would grow into embarrassing final scores. What changed? Who knows? What I do know is that, way too often we make decisions based on wild guesses stained by the past. Since last year went this way, this year will, too.

I remember an argument my sister and I had on the boardwalk at Ocean City. Neither of us had actually done anything, we were both operating out of our expectations of what the other would do, or think, or say. I totally ruined an evening because of who my sister was 10 years earlier. She was a different person, but the boundaries I forced onto her wouldn’t allow me to see it. (Unless she wasn’t, of course. Maybe she hadn’t changed, but we would never know as long as I was seeing her through these restrictive lenses.)

I say, “she’s always going to be like this,” or “that’s just who he is,” or the worst phrase ever uttered, “it is what it is,” much too often. (I understand it can be wise to appropriately discern and not allow toxic people to continue to be toxic all over us, but if we were all honest, it’s usually not wisdom, just despair and hopelessness.)

Sometimes, it isn’t what it is. It’s a new day. I heard a terrific quote: “A person never reads the same book twice.” We change, teams change. Just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it will happen today.

Everyone who was ever crucified died and stayed that way…until One didn’t.

**

For the varsity game, the ELCO gymnasium was loud and charged with energy. The students in the specially designated section under the basket were obnoxious and boisterous, jeering our boys and cheering for theirs in rehearsed chants.

You might think I would spend this time shaking my head in disappointment, like a dad would, talking about class and respect. Nope.

I LOVED IT! I laughed when a girl in the front row offered a longer-haired player her scrunchie, admired their black shirts and wished we all had red ones of our own.

(In college, one of my favorite memories was a doubleheader at Messiah college where I was ruthlessly mocked for long hair of my own. They called me ‘She’ and asked over and over when LVC started allowing girls on the baseball team. I smiled, shook my head, threatened to steal their girlfriends and had two of the best games and one of the best days of my life. When the games ended, an LVC sweep, I took my hat off and bowed to them, showing them every strand on my sweaty head of hair, and they laughed with me and applauded louder than they had all day.)

These ELCO kids loved their team, maybe loved their school, and at least for that hour, loved each other. Sports are fun, a fact we mostly forget, turning the heated competition into THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. It’s not. These kids are just like our kids, just like us, having a great time, an exhilarating escape from a world that usually only takes from them, only giving anxiety over endless stressors.

No one raised a fist, or a gun, just their hands and voices. The words were harmless, not containing any true slurs or hateful spirits. We were a community of humanity, all of us, no matter what color shirts we were wearing. It was a tiny gym in Lebanon county, loud and hot and super fun, and it was perfect.

Basketball Season, v. 1

Last night, basketball season began with a scrimmage at Northeastern middle school in York county. I spent an awful lot of time in York when I was delivering medical equipment…and I really hated it. I have a colorful expression to describe the area that I wouldn’t use here, because we’re a family friendly space;)

The game was not awesome, the Northeastern boys whipped our Annville-Cleona middle schoolers without mercy or apology. They dominated every facet of the game and left us downcast and discouraged. Anyone who has every competed in anything (from monopoly to Fortnite to the Super Bowl) knows that you sometimes have to weather a vicious thrashing from time to time. It builds character, coaches say, and they’re usually right.

But where they were wrong is that the loss itself doesn’t build the character; sometimes the loss is just a loss and nothing more. Nothing is built. Instead, you use the loss to build the character.

My son Elisha is on the team and I don’t mind at all if he loses a game or 2 or all of them. In fact, I find myself getting excited to see what he’ll do now, how he’ll choose to react. Will he cower in fear for the next game? Will he become resigned to the notion that they will lose again and again? Or will he pick himself up and fight? Will be use this loss to “build character” and become something new, something strong, stable and unstoppable (win or lose)?

It’s also the thing I get excited for in my life and the lives of the people I know and love. How will we face and deal with that attack, setback, disaster, pain? Will we get up (and get up again and again and again) and with what kind of mindset?

Now, the truth is that team was much better than our team was, at least it was last night.

In basketball or life or faith, growth (what we could call “becoming all of what we were created to be”) doesn’t just happen. It we go half speed and give about half of what we have to give, we get eaten up and stand around wondering how in the world this happened. I’ll often say we need to “show up” to our lives, but what I mean is an awful lot more than simply riding a bus, putting on a uniform, and making it to the court. I mean show up, commit, risk, take a shot, work hard, give all we are and all we have to whatever it is we are doing.

Our boys knew they were beaten the day the schedule was released, and that’s exactly how it looked from the stands through the eyes of a man who knows next to nothing about the X’s and O’s of this beautiful game. I don’t know what plays were called in what type of offense, but I’ve done enough giving up to clearly recognize that.

So what if they lost last night? Or if they lose them all? These boys are hopefully becoming men and last night’s lesson on the basketball court will give them the bricks to build the sort of character we all need in our homes, lives, and society. Or not. It can also just be the first of many pointless losses. The team gets to decide.

There’s a cool book called Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk, that ends like this:

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time. We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight.

And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.

What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.

-end-”

I can’t wait to see what they will build.

Sports?

I write so many posts on sports because I grew up on a steady diet of sports, and often the things we eat when we are young remain integral to our lives. Teams, players, won-loss records, ERA, batting average, and second-guessing were often the only way my dad and I could relate and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely LOVE it. One year in the NFL playoffs, after I was out of the house and married to my Angel, Peyton Manning had a first half that was unbelievable, something like 5 straight TD drives, where he looked like a space alien brought here to play football. I was alone in my living room and called my dad. Just a father and son loving Peyton Manning together…

So, I love sports. Maybe I really just love my dad and the 2 have gotten mixed up over a lifetime into where I can’t tell the difference, and now he’s gone but sports are here and that’s going to have to be good enough.

Anyway. I can also see now that sports are primarily windows and illustrations – instead of ERA and batting average, I care far more about character, drive, and the human condition, perfectly displayed and refined on the practice field, bench, and weight room.

Both of my boys play basketball, and some days come home very frustrated and very angry. I understand this. There are some other boys on the team that, well…

Adolescence is marked by fear and insecurity, right? We are awkward and riddled with anxiety and acne, growing into the people we will become – but we’re scared to death that those people we’re becoming are somehow not enough. Of what? Whatever, we just live our lives wondering if we measure up. This leads kids to fight and claw and try to annihilate the ones standing nearby in a fruitless quest to appear better in proximity. 

The most arrogant, condescending and nasty of us, it’s easy to see, are the ones who are most viciously ruled by this inadequacy. In schools, playgrounds, fields and courts – then later workplaces, offices, and conference rooms – this behavior is totally predictable.

I understand this, too.

I know what it is to wake up in fear, wondering if today will be the day I am exposed, that they ‘find out’ (whoever ‘they’ are and whatever they ‘find out.’) Faced with fear, we fight. We rip and claw at others to prove our dominance.

We sit and talk about these other boys, they vent and I listen. 

I know these boys they talk about and the weight under which they are struggling that threatens every second to squish them. I want to hug these kids, hold them and tell them they are ok, that they are enough. I also know they won’t listen, will probably alienate everyone around them until they are alone and hollow, exhausted from the constant image-creating. I know how hard it is to see through the too-small eyeholes in the masks we wear.

When I was young, I wanted them to get what they deserve. I wanted to give them what they deserve. Now, I still do, but the thing they deserve has changed. I don’t want them fed knuckle sandwiches anymore (though I always fear that’s where this is headed), I want them loved, unconditionally and beyond reason, for no other reason than that they too are children of the King.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said to love our enemies, the ones that are hardest to love, the ones that make it their business to make others feel sall and embarrassed and worthless, the ones who pretend, the ones who bully our kids at school.

This impossible-sounding command is only possible if we can see them as they actually are, without their carefully curated disguises, as frightened children. 

I want my boys to have these eyes that can see. I want to have these eyes that can see, too. 

Now that we’re here, I also want those boys to have the eyes to see themselves as they are, as He does. We are walking this path together, and if Jesus is to be believed (and I truly believe He is), this kind of overwhelming love will drive out the fear and we can all begin the healing. Let’s imagine that, just for a second, for a day, forever…        

    

Notes From A “Try Hard”

This morning I played competitive basketball, which means my ankles, knees, calves, well…every single part of me is asking me why? Why would we do that?? Saturday mornings in the winter of either 1983, 84, or 85 (I don’t exactly remember which) was the last time I played sort-of competitive basketball, so I can forgive my muscles for forgetting. My brain forgot, too. 

Last week was my first, and it was a very pleasant surprise. I was able to endure the hour and a half without blacking out or calling an ambulance. Whether board games or foot races, I’ve always been awfully serious about competition, but winning and losing hold far less significance when survival is your primary goal. That was the big win for me. As far as the actual sport, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t terrible. I didn’t embarrass my boys too much.

On that note, to compete alongside your own children is one of the most rewarding experiences a man like me can have. All of those hours I spend in the gym were validated on the court, as we gave all we had, standing side by side, encouraging each other to persevere, winning and losing together.        

But we won a bunch and I made a few jump shots. In fact, some looked so good I considered that maybe it wasn’t too late to make a run at a semi-pro league. I played hard, sweaty defense and hustled.

Elisha informed me afterwards that I was what the kids at school call a “Try Hard,” which is a playground slur for those who aren’t cool enough to pretend to not care. Like the kids that actually dance at school dances or study for exams. It’s pretty jarring to find out that one of the virtues you’ve spent years trying to instill is one of the things that will get them mocked and ridiculed at recess. Go figure. 

This week, this Try Hard couldn’t make much of anything, so I’m putting the semi-pro idea on the shelf for now, but even if your shots don’t fall, you can play hard, sweaty defense and hustle. My team lost all of the games this week, too.

Sports. 

I started this post in a white rocking chair on my porch, feeling every day of my nearly 44 years, not knowing what I would write for this Bridge blog, just knowing that I would. Then, “basketball” came out of my fingers and what does that have to do with God or church or spirituality? I always like to have some kind of bigger point that ties everything up nicely. 

I don’t have any, though. Hmm. Do I really need a fancy big idea? I guess not. 

Now that we’re here, though, I think probably basketball and writing and being someone’s daddy and prayer and living a good life are pretty much the same things. We show up not knowing if we can do it, (and before too long, there we are, doing it!!!), and sometimes we’re AWESOME and the next second we’re THE ABSOLUTE WORST, no one has ever been worse, we’ve ruined it. But we haven’t – not even close – because we keep showing up with what we have been given – which is always enough – and we Try Hard. 

Basketball was super fun, hurts and leaves me exhausted and weak. And there, in that exhaustion, weakness, and pain, I learned more and more about me and my boys, the virtues of trying hard, gratitude and the overflowing gifts of the Divine, lessons I might not have learned elsewhere. 

So, ankles, knees and poor tired feet, that is why we would do that.