This month is all about athletics... sort of.
I am not a dancer but I put 100% into everything I do so it is easy for me to metaphorically relate to Melanie as she wholeheartedly jumps ... but what about Neil, the dancer catching her? When I think of his role, I think about the World Cup Soccer games this month. I was watching a game that went into "sudden death". Each team has five tries to get the ball into the net. The first man steps out onto the green. There is no support from his teammates. He must endure the pressure alone, relying on his strategy for a perfect kick. The goalie, on the other hand, must try to predict his opponent's move and block the ball.
Every man for himself... with all the eyes of his fellow teammates, coaches and fans watching, he steps onto the field. Sudden death is a tough way to loose a hard-played game and every soccer fan knows it. The cheering for the first man indicates he made the shot, now the opposing team, again victory. Each team sends up a solo player. No man wants to be the one that misses the shot. It is excruciating for me to watch. Whether it is having a son or getting old enough to see a man's vulnerability on public display, I can see the pressure in the faces of these young men. Inevitably, somebody is going to miss (statistics alone says it will happen). Then the crushing block... the goal is denied and the player collapses in his failure... the journey out to the field won't be nearly as long as the journey back to the locker-room.
I'm competitive by nature. That is good and bad. On the negative, I have a temper but on the positive, I seek to surround myself with people that raise the bar for me in all areas of my life.
As odd as it seems now, girl's athletics in elementary/high school were not always popular. I was born about 10 years too soon so when I signed up for the mens/woman's downhill ski team my freshman year of college, I was ill-equipped for the rigors of the game. I entered competent, confident and competitive. It was my roommate that got me to join this almost entirely men's college ski team (many of whom were from the Squaw Valley Ski team- what was I thinking?). I will never forget that first day of "dry land" training which primarily meant running and stairs, suicides and weight training. These competitive guys took one look at the slightly built, blond hair, blue eyed knock-out (my roommate) and thought both she and I would crumble under pressure. What they didn't know was my roommate had broken State Records for endurance and cross country running. I, on the other hand, had sheer determination coupled with a strong work ethic, both of which proved to be valuable assets to a good game.
The land training was never a problem but in preparation for the real deal, I went to Squaw Valley for some pre-game warm-ups. The only problem? I forgot to check a map. I just took a chair and went up, and up, and up. Once off the lift, I realized I had no idea where I was and the terrain was harder than any I had ever seen. It wasn't "Headwall" (the name should give you an indication of the difficulty of the run) but it was something comparable. Scared but fearless, I took a deep gulp, "sucked it up" and took off. The next several minutes were a blur. .... it had something to do with gravity, snow, skis and my head thrusting between the ground and the air. Roll after roll, everything seems to be in slow motion. It seemed the turbulent "dryer" spin would never end. In cartoon style, i was like a big snow ball billowing down the hill, gaining speed, snow and momentum. Then as quickly as it began, it stopped. Miraculously, grace shone on me that day. Opening my eyes, I was an arms length from the biggest, widest tree on the slope. Because most of my family was a part of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Department, I had long heard about the numerous deaths on the slopes. I escaped with no broken bones, just a broken spirit. I guess I should have taken it as a symbolic trophy but two skiers quickly skied over to 1) make sure I was alright and 2) let me know it was the most impressive blow-out they had ever seen. Great!
Remember Melanie who jumped? The next part of that video clip is from the judges who give her feedback regarding her athleticism and spirit (she goes on, incidentally to win the season)- I would watch the whole clip. With the same passion that propels these youthful dancers, passionate ambition takes place in college athletics. The ante in the game is dialed up a notch. Years of hard work in elementary and high school have propelled these young men into an arena of competition on a different scale. This time, the best of the best are seen as hopeful players while potential career contracts lure desirous hearts to grandeur, acceptance and success. We live in a culture that marginalizes everyone (and yes, these men too). They now take their game to a new level where "competent, confident, competitive" coaches actively pursue players for their team. Alternatively, players who represent hours of dedication, experience and hard work are among the recruits. The competition and pressure does not escape me. Choose your sport... there have been games and seasons won and lost. All the eggs in one basket, pride, vulnerability, sweat, adrenaline, tears, Testosterone, hopes, applause. Like a dream-like cloud, the pressure is great and like in the "sudden death" in World Cup Soccer, each man goes out on the green alone prepared to take his best shot.
Having children is a "game changer". Whether they are biologically your own or adopted in spirit, they forever change your life. They are God's way of humbling you to your knees. How else could He get independent, free-will, wild men and women to quiet their souls to a place of a whisper? So quiet, you can hear the wind in the trees and in your own heart.
It is a game changer and you better make your choices deliberately and soberly. Any good athlete knows there is an element of physical and mental stamina. They know when to coach and when to be coached. They need to be cautious and deliberate in choosing their teammates because when they too have to go to the line for "sudden death" they know who has got their backs; it is an element of trust.
So who do I coach?
I coach an athlete, dancer and artist. (Ok- they would cringe with my stereotypical confining label but for the purposes of a post on athletics, it works). Their lives represent all the joy and the greatest depths of prayer I could muster. Between the three of them, I have faced struggles (too many surgeries to count, over 15 nights in hospital rooms or outside a bedroom door) wading through waters of disappointment when it came their way or celebrating victories with the exuberant triumph of an athlete winning the greatest game. For them, I'm all in and their greatest fan.
Who are my teammates?
These represent a small group of men and woman of varying ages, who when i pause and scratch my head and think to myself, "you are way above my league, why are you even friends with me?" inspire, challenge and love me and I love them back. They are some of the most brilliant, talented, creative, capable people I know. Marriage, parenting, careers, building a home, raising a family is a hard game and you need to choose wisely. There will be times you sweat and need to pass the ball to a teammate when you are too weak to make the play; they will make the shot for you. I know that and they know that about me.
Why a dinner?
Remember that story about me on the ski slope? Fear knocked me down. After graduating from college, my son was determined to trek the Himalayas (the border of India and Napal). For 31 days, he carried all he needed on his back, equipped with the experience of being an athlete, alongside a small group of peers he learned elements of leadership. At the conclusion of the Trek, he let me know he was traveling to Thailand to live there for the remainder of the year, meaning I wouldn't see him for close to a year. At the same time, my daughter, a second year student in college was accepted into a 5 month program in South Africa- a long held dream of hers. What was the chances they would be gone at the same time? I can almost replay the tape in my head that cried out to God, "really"? "How will I keep them safe"? A coach knows when to let his players play. He has to trust that his players were listening and then stand back and let them play.
My kids were little when I joined youth ministries as a volunteer worker at our church. My son was six, my daughter 3 and I was pregnant with my third and youngest daughter. I vividly remember standing on the lawn of the church, silently praying how I wanted to "go deeper" in my faith. I felt a faint, almost audible whisper deep within my soul calling me there. I was repeatedly told that I should wait until my kids were that age and the best fit for me was in the nursery. I did what I was told, occasionally working in the nursery, children's bible school while continuing with my Wed morning women's bible study... but still I felt a tug in my heart.
My determination and persistence wore down my spiritual advisor. She finally conceded and invited me on an overnight youth conference with her and the new youth leader. I heard about church in a way I had never heard it before. I was challenged and changed. That ushered in a deep lasting bond with kids and leaders all holding a common goal of reaching out to teenagers for the sake of the gospel. At the same time, God ushered people into my children's lives who helped to grow them into the man and women they are becoming.
That brings me to June dinners. A year ago, in June and again last month, in June I held a dinner. As extravagant as I could, my husband and I wanted to welcome our two oldest children home. Having not seen our son for almost a year and our daughter for six months, we wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who give us exceedingly more than our hearts could desire; we wanted to shower them (along with our youngest daughter) with all the love they have given (and continue to give) us.
Then last month, after 13 years, God again used us as the hands and feet of Jesus. Coming home to see a father on hospice, our youth leaders laid their hands of grace, outstretched with love, forgiveness and mercy on a man that lived his life filled with struggles and triumphs, doing the best he could, they helped to "ease his pain" paving his walk home a little easier. Like the dinner last June, awaiting them were people (far more than they realized) waiting to also welcome them home- a home into a friendship of love.
This Jesus is radical- turning lives inside and out. His discipleship is "leave no man behind" calling people to himself. He is the coach that guides us to a banquet we cannot even fathom. You will find disciples that are broken, weak and human but are willing to lay down their desires because of a God willing to die for them.
My father died over four years ago. I miss him everyday. There are so many stories to tell about him but one that is useful for this post is one told by my brother-in-law who is hilarious when he tells the story of meeting him for the first time. I don't even remember this but he does. We were all in my father's boat on Lake Tahoe- crystal blue, cool, clear water. We weren't far from shore when Mike (my brother-in-law) realized he forgot his swim trunks on shore and it was really hot. He asked him to go back... my dad calmly and cooly shook his head no. Mike had to jump in butt-naked. He must have had us turn our eyes because I don't remember that story but the point is Jesus calls us to himself naked and vulnerable in order for him to fill us completely with his love and grace. Will you jump in?
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.