Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sorry for the longer entry below, but it's something that I just finished editing from a late night writing rant I had two years ago. I hope it ministers to you.
You might not believe it if you saw me now, but I used to be a serious athlete. When I was in second grade, I played t-ball. You know t-ball, don’t you? It’s a form of baseball for children in which the baseball is not pitched, but is rested on a stand called a tee in front of the batter. I wasn’t a very good t-ball player. I was so terrible at batting that often I would strike out. Who strikes out in t-ball? The ball is right there in front of you and you don’t even have to worry about curve balls, slow pitches, or anything. I, however, would often swing at the ball and miss it altogether, even though it was just sitting there on top of the tee, right in front of me.
When I signed up for the t-ball team, I wanted to be the pitcher. Pitchers were cool. They were right in the middle of the action. I imagined myself pitching no hitter games as thousands cheered me on as the next American baseball prodigy. It never occurred to me that t-ball pitchers actually didn’t pitch the ball. I didn’t become the pitcher. My friends told me it was because I threw like a girl. I ended up in left field, which isn’t a very active position in t-ball.
Even though I wasn’t the pitcher, I swore to myself that I would work so hard that my coach, Coach Williams, would eventually admit his coaching mistake and make me the pitcher. I made it to every practice and did everything that Coach Williams told me to do. I ran laps with the other players. I took turns trying to hit the ball at batting practice. I even caught the ball a few times when Coach Williams hit it to left field. Finally, I sat with the other players in the dugout and listened to my first pre-game pep talk. I don’t remember a word that Coach Williams said, but I do remember that he was sure that we would win if we all played our best.
The day of that first game, I was pumped. Just to prove my team spirit, I wore my uniform to school. What I was most proud of was my blue baseball cap with a big “S” on the front. I pulled it so far down on top of my head that you couldn’t even see my eyebrows. All the kids laughed at me but I didn’t care. I wasn’t moving that cap off of my head for anything. I was part of a great t-ball team and I was sure that soon we would be playing in the national t-ball championship. Unfortunately, my teacher soon told me that I had better take it off unless I wanted to run laps to the principal’s office. She kept it for me for the rest of the day just to make sure that I wouldn’t somehow forget and put it back on my head. However, when she placed it on my head at the end of the school day, she whispered in my ear, “Hit a home run for me, John.”
The next time I took off my cap was when I stood on the baseline with my fellow players and listened to a canned rendition of the national anthem. When it was finished, the umpire yelled, “Play ball!” I ran to my position in left field and waited patiently for the first fly ball to come my way. I was in for a long wait.
After a few minutes of zero left field action, I started to grow antsy. The time between batters seemed to last forever and my baseball cap was starting to feel tight around my skull. My determination to be a professional t-ball pitching star waned as it began to sink into my brain that t-ball pitchers don’t actually pitch the ball because the ball is on a tee.
As I stood there in left field, it started to get hot. The announcer took forever announcing each batter from the other team that stood to bat. Some of them hit the ball, but none of them made it out of the infield.
“This sure is taking a long time,” I sighed to myself as I looked around me for some type of diversion that would keep me from my intense boredom. My search didn’t take long for perhaps twenty five feet behind me was a huge oak tree with large limbs that hung near to the ground.
“This is great!” I thought. “There’s a tree out here that I can play on while I’m out here in left field. Nobody ever hits a ball to left field so there’s no reason for anyone to even look out this way. It’s so far that no one will ever notice, especially not Coach Williams. He wears glasses anyway and that must mean that he can’t see very well.” I took one more look at the infield. Everyone there seemed to be moving in slow motion.
So, I threw down my glove, turned quickly, and ran toward the tree. I grabbed a branch with both hands and swung my feet up and wrapped them around another branch. In my mind, I instantly became a prince in a middle ages kingdom fighting for his princess. As I hung from the branch, I cried out, “Don’t be alarmed, my dear Princess Alookabala! I, Prince Johann, will save you from the evil three headed dragon!”
“Frady!” yelled Coach Williams from the infield. “What are you doing? Get the ball!” His voice instantly melted away the kingdom and returned me to left field. I turned just in time to see the ball rolling toward me.
“Frady!” Coach Williams continued. “Get the ball! What are you doing hanging from the tree?”
I dropped from the tree and placed my glove on the ground to stop the ball, but it hit a root and bounced right over my head.
“Behind you!” yelled Coach Williams. “Get the ball!”
I quickly turned and started chasing the ball but tripped on another root and fell to the ground.
“I have to get that ball!” I screamed at myself as I stood and ran in the direction that I thought the ball must have gone.
“Frady, turn around!” Coach Williams yelled. “You’ll find it if you turn around.”
Furiously, I started spinning in circles looking for that stupid ball until I actually fell to the ground from dizziness.
“Frady! Get up! Find the ball!”
“Give it up, kid!” a voice called from the bleachers.
“I’ll never find it,” I said to myself as I momentarily gave up and sat down Indian style facing away from the infield and bleachers.
“Get that kid off the field!” I heard a man yell.
“What’s he doing out there!” screamed a woman.
I was so ashamed. I realized that I had to do something. So I shook off the last of the dizziness and saw that the ball was sitting right in front of me. I jumped to my feet, picked it up and turned to throw the ball, but stopped when I realized that Coach Williams was standing right in front of me.
“What are you doing, Frady?” he asked, towering over me.
I looked up at him and suddenly my mind went blank.
“Answer me!” he commanded.
At first, I thought about telling him about how I was suddenly Prince Johann saving Princess Alookabala from the three headed dragon, but I didn’t think he would understand.
“I, uh, don’t know, Coach.” I answered timidly.
“Well, I know,” he snapped. “We’re in the middle of a very important t-ball game and you’re out here swinging on trees, mumbling to yourself, not even paying attention to what’s going on around you. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, beginning to tear up.
“Well, I know!” he snarled. “Get your glove. You’re going to warm the bench for the rest of the game and maybe the rest of the season.”
The walk to the dugout lasted for an eternity. My teammates on the field glared at me. Adults in the bleachers shook their heads. One of the dads even yelled out, “Williams, you ought to just kick that kid off the team! He was swinging in the trees, for Pete’s sake!”
Another man joined in: “Yeah, Williams! You better at least bench that kid! The other team got three runs because of him!”
When I finally made it to my seat, no one would sit by me. I leaned against the wall behind me and cried hard. I threw down my glove and whispered loudly, “I hate t-ball.”
I played two years of t-ball and then two more years of baseball. I hated almost every minute of it. I did improve a little. I eventually stopped throwing like a girl and never again did I swing on a tree during an actual game.
I don’t know why I continued to play t-ball. I think I was trying to earn respect for myself through improving my sports skills. I never got it. My teammates continued to glare at me, coaches continued to lecture me, and other kid’s parents continued to suggest loudly that I be kicked off of the team. No one, ever, told me that I was a good t-ball or baseball player.
As I look back, I realize that I’ve worked hard all of my life to achieve respect. First, it was sports. I played t-ball and flag football, then I played baseball and football. After that, I tried basketball and soccer. Then, when I realized that sports weren’t for me, I joined the Boy Scouts and earned more badges than anyone else in my den. Next, I threw myself into my school subjects, hoping to find satisfaction. It didn’t come so I began learning the piano and I seriously started singing. Before long came band and drama and school clubs and honor societies and college scholarships. It never stopped. I continued to earn respect for myself so that never again would I be sitting in the dugout listening to someone yelling at me to give it up. Never again did I want to hear my coach or teacher or leader or friend or family member yell out, “Frady! What are you doing? Go get the ball! Why are you hanging in the trees?” I would win their respect by outdoing everybody in everything.
And then I met Jesus Christ. He loved me unconditionally no matter if I excelled at anything. He accepted me whether I played left field or played in the trees. He didn’t care about my abilities. He only cared about me. I thought that was cool and I made Him my Lord and Savior.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave it alone. I decided that the best way to “repay” God for loving me unconditionally was to give Him other reasons to love me. I got involved in every church activity that I could find. I sang in the choir. I went on visitation. I wore neon Christian t-shirts to school (it was the 80’s), I sang solos in our church and in other churches, I went on mission trips, I wanted to do it all.
I took what should have been all about Him and made it all about me.
Oh, I thought that what I was doing was all about Him because I was serving Him. I was singing about Him. I was learning about Him. I was visiting for Him. I was wearing t-shirts that portrayed cool things about Him! I was telling people about Him! But, really, deep down, it was all about me. I feel so ashamed as I write that now.
I was like Martha preparing the meal for Jesus. She was working so hard that she wasn’t getting to spend any time with Jesus. I’m sure that as Martha was preparing the meal for the Lord that she was thinking, “O.k. I’ve got to make this meal for Jesus and His disciples. Would He best like my unleavened bread or my fig preserve sandwich spread? I’ll just have to make them both. Then, when Jesus tastes them, He will turn to me and say, ‘Martha, you make the best unleavened bread fig preserves sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. Why don’t you sit on my right side when My kingdom comes?’”
But Jesus didn’t say that to Martha. “The Master said, ‘Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it's the main course, and won't be taken from her.’" (Luke 10:41-42, MSG) Jesus was saying that although active, practical service to God is essential and good, our first and most important task is a love and devotion that expresses itself in worship, prayer, and fellowship with Jesus.
Now that several decades have passed since I was a child, I hear Jesus calling to me from outside of the whirlwind of my own making. He’s asking me, “Why are you so caught up in this game? Where’s the John who forsake his outfield position in order to swing in a tree? That’s who I made you to be. Spend time with me and let me remind you of who you are.”