Lasting victory

So last night I and millions of other basketball fans witnessed history. The Univeristy of Connecticut lady huskies won their 4th straight, eleventh overall ncaa championship. They way they dominated all season, and all of recent memory wasn’t lost on me.  What I found most amazing didn’t come to mind until today. 

I spoke briefly with a friend reminiscing about last nights game and I recounted their string of championships. It occurs to me that this graduating class of women has never known defeat. 

This graduating class of women has never known defeat. Let that sink in. 

This. Graduating. Class. Of. Women. Has. NEVER. Known. Defeat. 

This is not only rare. It is not only unprecedented. It is not only history making. It not only assumes legacy stature. It not only assures that some or all of these women can easily see themselves in WNBA garb in a years time. 

This Four-Pete will pay dividends in these women’s lives and their fellow classmates minds as a continuously looped reel of film that will forever play. No matter what adversity in life they face or obstacle is set before them. They will always have this in mind. Let me explain how important this is. 

A book author I enjoy greatly once was asked how do y’all write a novel. His response is to first write your first bad novel. And yes, the first one will suck. Just know that. But finish it anyway. Then put it away and start your second novel which will hopefully be better. Maybe not by much, but it must also be written. That first one? Forget sending it to publishers or sharing it or whatever. Just put it away. It’s not good. So why write it at all? Because when you become frustrated with later projects by writers block, life, family, bills, regular jobs, and more, and then you are ready to throw your hands up and scream “I GIVE UP!”… It is then you pull out that book you finished and remind yourself that you can do this. You’ve done it before. You can do it now. You need to see that it is possible. That this pause in your creative process is only temporary and you will finish the race. 

It is for this reason that these women who have never seen defeat will conquer anything before them in their chosen careers and lives. Because they’ve done it before. Not just once. But four times. They know what they can do. And they know how to do it as a team. They can look back at their bad books, and know that if they can do that, anything is possible. 

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Joy cometh in the morning

Years ago I was sitting in a church in central Indiana. My roles in the church was many. I was part of the men’s fellowship, young adult choir, nursery ministry, and more. Being a member of a church who’s pastor was a former boxer it is easy to see how his vision of the world would always be colored ever so slightly by that world. It’s not unusual to hear a man who is a former athlete allow certain things to slip into his speech pattern. Saying things like, “be a team player” “hit a home run with that speech” “get up and dust yourself off”. “Keep swinging” and on and on.

So it was so unexpected what he said on one particular Sunday so many years ago.

It was deep in the midst of football season and the early part of the basketball season. My Indianapolis Colts were playing. I believe that they were playing badly because it was pre-Payton Manning. So they were still in the AFC East. These were the days that my Pacers still had Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, the Davis’s, and so on. The greatest enemy of every Indiana sports team was the Knicks, Bulls, Dolphins, and really any team that would dare draw breath in our new RCA “Hoosier” Dome or Market Square Arena.

I honestly do not recall the message. I couldn’t even guess what line of scripture he lifted up that day. I’m not even sure what color suit or robe he had on that day. But I do remember him saying this:

It’s a shame that we can shout and scream and foam at the mouth at a Reggie three [point shot]. But we can’t open our mouth and make any noise at all for the word of God.

Wow.

He really put things into perspective for me on that Sunday.

No, I didn’t stop being very depressed when my team was once again sent to its bench with too few points to win. No, I didn’t stop wearing with great pride the gold and blue of my Pacers or the white and blue of my Colts. Not even the vibrant reds of my beloved Indianapolis Indians. But I DID take due notice of how I responded to the word of God in worship service.

Today, we heard the Word from Isaiah 3:1-10. In this passage we were reminded that Isaiah was a young child who, though he was a servant of God, he knew almost nothing of God. So when he heard Gods voice, he confused it with his own earthly fathers voice. So mistaking it, he disturbed his fathers slumber three times. Only on the last hearing of his name being called out did his fathers words to respond to the voice of God occur. He said “here am I.”

My point is that I could be walking down Meridian Street or down the hallways of Victory Field. And if I should chance upon one of those teams ball players and they literally tripped over me, they wouldn’t know me. Probably wouldn’t even try and get to know me. Though I’d’ve been a full fare, ticket paying fan, I’m not going to be his priority beyond the brief moment of his footing being lost on account of us having crossed paths just a bit too closely. My mama used to say, “… Could trip over you, and wouldn’t know you.”

So why in the world would I shout so hard for him, a person who really wont do anything specifically for me? Why would I scream until I’m horse for him? Clap my hands until they hurt? Stomp my feet until my bones shake? Spend money like a drunken sailor on team gear to PROVE I’m the best sixth man or twelfth man or whatever man? Why would I do all these things that cry vainglorious fandom…. But I cannot be bothered to even so much as crack a smile when the word of God is delivered and He loves me in all I do? Will be my father no matter what? Has my back like no one else? Literally sacrificed his only son for me before I even knew who He is?

It was then that I made sure I re-prioritized my praise. Re-assessed where my faith was placed. In whom I placed my trust. I learned that day that man will at some point always let you down. Man is at some point going to give you reason to question why you trusted him at all. Analyze your very rubric for judging another’s character. But in God the trust and love will never EVER fail. It’s why when someone at work recently asked me why I’m always so upbeat and happy, I responded that I have a close relationship with God. She was stunned by my answer…. And frankly so was I. I too was surprised I said that so readily. It wasn’t an answer I’d planned on. But it was the answer I had on the tip of my tongue. And it was the truth.

So yes, I’m very hurt my favorite football team lost. I’m very upset that I live in a state where their team was the instrument by which my team was embarrassed to have even dressed to play. I’m hurt inside because I know the fans of that team here are rude, often crude, and love to brag and be crass in their wins and fein concern for my feelings when they ask dumb questions like, “So…. What happened to your team?” In other words, in the fellow men and women of my current community, I will find no comfort. I will find no peace or honest sympathy. They are men, after all.

But with God I can be sure that when I go to him, I don’t need to wear a particular teams colors or shout a particular chant to get comfort, peace, love, guidance and joy.

So yes, I’ll still be a bit touchy over this latest loss. And yes, I’ll one day soon again, be a super fan again. But as for now, I can still be myself and happy because I don’t put my faith in men. Because men let me down. I put my faith in something much more permanent. Someone more in tune with my spirit and my heart. Someone who does know me, even if I trip over Him.

Couldn’t do it without him

Several weeks ago I woke up on the third morning of a weeklong camping trip with a local Boyscout troop, hungry mosquitos desperately trying to drain energy from me. I had made it through another evening and wasn’t feeling badly at all. In fact, it was as if I had caught my second wind after a long exercise regimen. I stretched my achy back and reached for the toothbrush and my eyeglasses both tucked safely in my carry pouch.

The boys outside my tent had already started to stir and I realized they had to be enjoying a ten to fifteen minute head start on me. No matter. As long as I was somewhat alert for the flag raising that’s all that mattered. Breakfast was sure to be a disappointment for me and my self imposed diet that omits pork products (choice, not faith).

The Ceremony complete, I marched the boys down to the mess hall over small hillocks and exposed roots of long ago born trees. The natural rock formations worn by years of size sixes and smaller threatened to trip me. But I made it in spite of my blurred vision. “Coffee…” Was my only thought.

So the meal came, I grabbed my coffee and sat to choke down some dry toast masquerading as something the French might’ve lain claim to were it not for the bitter aftertaste. I sighed. Then announcements. Merit badge classes: Archery. Shotgun. Sailing. Cooking. And a dozen more. Good. Full day. I’ll be as busy as the boys.

Then the announcement I was not expecting. There is a foot race planned some weeks after I am scheduled to return home. I’ve never participated in a foot race so I was interested for purely selfish reasons. I like seeing my belly get smaller and there’s a handsome patch in it for every participant. Cool. Sign me up.

Later, I see the beautiful patch in the camp store. I realized that the patch was part of a trifecta of patches. By participating or whimping out and buying it, I could get that patch they talked about. I thought of my son and how he would enjoy the collection of his patches. So I thought, when I get home, I’m gonna register both my son and myself for the race, we will earn that patch together.

Weeks later, on the night before the race, I register us both.

My son, ever the inquisitive one asks me why he is going to have to awaken at 6:30 am on a Saturday to run a race? I didn’t want to ruin the patch surprise so I hid that from him and admitted to wanting to do it just to do it. And I admitted, truthfully, that I wanted to do it with him. He seemed skeptical but allowed himself to be placed in my car and driven an hour away for an uncertain event.

We get to the camp and wander around a bit looking for familiar faces. Finding them, we greet the others and then stretching so we are not too sore for the race. I insist we are not here to win, but to finish. I ask him to lead me through stretches he uses in his community rowing team. They helped loosen us both up and he seemed to enjoy showing me something he knew.

The starting gun fired and we were off. For almost 1/3 of a mile I ran. Then I started to sweat. Puff. Even drool a bit. I was faltering already. “…Oh well. I’m only here to finish…” I remind myself. I began to hope my shoes would fail so I could turn back. I was gasping for air. I didn’t think I could go on.

Then I looked at my son. And he was just fine. So I smiled. And pressed on. But not as fast. This part of the race I just jogged at a very slow pace. My son saw me do this and kept pace with me too. He urged me on when the road grew long and steep. He called out words of encouragement to me when and even before I knew needed it. Then on one particularly rough hill, he came up to me, extended his hand, and held mine as he pulled me along. My own son gave me strength. He held me as I struggled and in so doing I was reinvigorated and my strength was bolstered enough for me to press on.

All of this in the first mile.

And he didn’t stop. He got me going when it was toughest. So I showed him beautiful mountain lake vistas I saw before on this same trail when I went on a much slower paced hike with the boys some weeks before. I showed him a tree stump with flowers growing out of it. Houses that defied gravity as they clung to mountainsides.

Then finally, nearly five miles later we near then end of the race. He sees it before I do and suddenly, without warning, he grabs my hand, yanks and takes off like a shot. The scoutmasters and youth staff leaders are gathered within the last quarter mile and they are shouting words of encouragement. Their shouts are like the water tables all along the trail. Refreshing and welcomed. But nothing these scouts offered me was like the hand of my son around mine. I was whipped, but I ran, just so I could finish with him at my side.
I couldn’t have done it without him and I wouldn’t have wanted to try.

The race that began at my urging finished at his. Tired, sweaty, smelly, calves on fire, chest heaving in the air. And I’ve never felt so good in my life.

I think I’m in trouble

So I’m driving home from my job when the smartphone next to me starts beeping and bouncing around with the ESPN jingle. Like Pavlov’s dogs I respond.

Belgium 1 USA nil.

I frown but realize it’s overtime.

I drive on. A bit faster now and my phone jingles again. I’m becoming somewhat anxious.

Belgium 2 USA nil.

Now I’m upset and start talking to the device as if it will somehow transmit my voice to the pitch in Brazil. C’mon boys. Score, why dontcha? My fellow drivers are looking equally withered and somewhat unfocused. I imagine they are listening to the radio broadcast of the game. But I don’t search for it. I just press on the gas and urge my four cylinders to chug harder.

Then suddenly a ray of hope. >jingle< Belgium 2 USA 1.

Now I'm elated. Hopeful. Ready to take on the world. Hype even. I wave my fist around and shout. Not too loudly now. I'd hate to unnerve someone. So instead I call my family and ask them if the game is on. They say yes. I ask the score. They say it's on delay so it's still early in the extra period. At this point I realize I'm only going to ruin them or myself if I share what I've already been told. So I hush up and gun the engine. It cries in pain but goes three miles per hour faster. I'm rocketing down the highway at a blazing 62 mph now!

My phone chimes again but I refuse to look. I now must see what my family sees. I must experience it with them. I realize I now actually care about the results. I feel very much like I did when I first heard of Olympic curling. I laughed hard at the so called sport. And changed the channel. Then the next time it was on television I sneered at it with disdainful indifference. And changed the channel. The next time I saw it I paused and smiled with a chuckle. But let the channel alone. The last time I searched the listings and taped the entire match and shouted with glee when the stone curled like a 1970's hairstyle.

I'd become a fan of a sport I knew nothing about and only see once every four years.

And I'd just done it again with fútbol. And I knew I was in trouble. Because I had just become a Johnny come lately fan of the worlds game. I had just done a superman belly flopping leap onto the bandwagon and wasn't embarrassed by it. I was ready to go to work and complain about the tackles, the missed shots on goal, the lost opportunities. The goalie. Oh the goalie with record breaking saves. Go Hamilton.

But I digress. I have just gotten into trouble. Because now I've added a sport to my lexicon and it was small as my home states pro league offerings. But now it had just become global. And I had chosen sides. And now when I decide to travel, I may just have become a target. Not of terrorists. But of rabid sports fans who do not like American fútbol because Americans are thieves of other countries players too. Just like the other teams are. But it's different because we are Americans.

Yep. I'm in trouble alright. But not for four years because when I got home I learned along with the rest of the planet that we were eliminated.

Again.

Oh well. There's always next time. And when next time rolls around I just might have a jersey or jacket on supporting the home team.

Go USA. You done good.

Maybe next time we get to okay Mexico too. That'd be great game , I'm sure.

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