Sports

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.

Sports, etc.

This was in the “draft” folder of my Love With A Capital L website. Apparently I wrote it earlier this year or the end of last year, and don’t remember why I didn’t post it. So, here it is, a little late:

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, points per game, completions percentage, sacks 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 these other boys 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 their path will lead them), 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 small 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…

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.

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…