This month's post about football began on a dance floor after game 7 of the NBA basketball finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is about trust, fading confidence and relentless pursuit.
Most of us have experienced a trust exercise. Mine was high above the ground suspended between ropes in a Redwood-tree forest in Northern California. Mt Hermon was established over 100 years ago, it's beauty is etched with indelible Redwoods, Sequoias and ferns. It is a place where my faith grew but lately the walk (and grip) between narrow ropes have caused me to sweat.
I was recently watching an ESPN 30 for 30 episode: An Orlando Magic basketball player was saying of Shaquille O'Neal on leaving for the Los Angeles Lakers, that a player doesn't realize the intensity of heat until the shade tree is gone - realizing the importance of Shaq to the team. Some players possess that special something - a mix of arrogance, ability and athleticism; they can't help but inspire those around them.
Quite by accident, the Golden State Warriors began to symbolically represent my faith walk and the desire to face my dragons head on. Armed with a sword and a book, I exchanged forgiveness for judgements and hope for self-doubt. If we are followers of Christ, we expect the trials (it is part of the deal) but lately I have been re-evaluating a lifetime of work, particularly as a parent. Not many shade trees - I honestly thought 100% effort, hard work and ability was enough, I started to get thirsty; my confidence waned.
I started looking at the beginning to evaluate a pattern. As the oldest of three children (seven now) I learned to be reliable and hard working at an early age; it was a mechanism for dealing with the chaos. In order to deflate conflict, I learned to anticipate the game play by becoming really observant - great attributes for an employee, athlete and leader but not so great in building trust. A double-edged sword, If I am reliable, can I trust other people ? And ..... since, this is a faith blog, ultimately - can I trust God?
The heat would be turned up a notch, and another - could I handle it?
... and then it hit me. In my erosion of confidence, I have become desperate. Several things in my personal life have me sweating so when I saw some shade, I took cover. At work, I bring respectable offensive plays against strong defenses. It is my natural wiring but when I had the chance to visit an opposing team, I was encouraged. Young, intelligent and possessing the necessary playbook (technology) like the back of her hand, I thought I finally had workplace support - something I have wanted since I started. In my excitement I made a gunslinger quarterback move. It seemed risky but I really could use the help. Unfortunately, the ball was fumbled with no remaining yards down - game over (at least in that office). Sigh ..... not a great trust builder!
Each step of the way, my confidence started to wane. Right about the time I was feeling embarrassed at the pass deflection, I was reading a Sports Illustrated issue while sitting in a doctor's office. The cover page caught my attention; a confident Lebron James and a re-cap of the NBA finals (specifically, game 7). James was reviewing tapes and for the first time in front of an audience in an auditorium - grimacing and smiling at the successes and failures in the box-and-one defense. Feeling the crack in my armor, my faith was tested as I started second guessing my hard work in the areas that mattered most.
Video 1: In a posture of humility and compassion - on his hands and knees, the coach is fully invested. Proving his desire to be in the trenches where sweat and tears flow.
Video 2: In the arms of a loving father, the volume is turned up a notch - where the audible was love.
For three days the gospel message was preached in a variety of ways through featured pastors and talented worship musicians but I don't remember any of it - I recall the stops at Starbucks, In-N-Out and Crispy Creme donuts. Everything else was lost but in a naked Bootleg quarterback play, it was the person in-between the music and lectures that echoed quietly - to a professional ball player, pride is everything. It either edifies or crushes the spirit. The locker room talk continues in an athlete's mind; it is about being the best. Simple: not about winning or loosing (which is still important) but about being respected - reputation means something.
Because of an invitation to see the show So You Think You Can Dance live in Hollywood I watched the television series and through the weeks started to become invested in the players. Antonio Brown from the Pittsburg Stealers was on the show. He was a natural athlete with a charismatic smile; his pride could be seen in his expression. He started the competition with a confident arrogance which was really likable but when he started to become unreliable and late for dance practice, the media took it toward a "slacker" direction which impeded his reputation. He could of given up but instead the chip on his shoulder propelled him into overdrive for touchdowns. He ended up being one of the finalist.
I asked one of my football friends, in preparation of this month's post, how his Pittsburg Stealers were looking in the upcoming season. I specifically asked about Antonio Brown and explained my interest in the player having watched the television show last year. He told me Brown was not a highly sought after draft pick which gave him an edge to kick-it into a 6 cylinder gear up a steep climb; he wore the need to prove himself attitude like a vest.
If you follow my blog, it is painfully obvious I am an intense player with a chip on my shoulder and a need to prove myself; I take the game seriously. I can hold my own on a football field (figuratively speaking) but as my confidence in the game waned, I realize I desperately need other players. It is time for me to loosen my grip and begin to trust.
We are given a false expectation that one person can meet all our needs. In football, there is the offense, the defense, the special teams, the coaches, the fans. It is a team effort. If trust is difficult, then break it down to manageable sizes. Can you trust the special teams to be reliable in one area? Can you trust key players on your defense? You can't have a team of quarterbacks, so are the key players on the offense trustworthy? Brown had the passion and drive but as he leaned into his instructor, great things began to happen on the dance floor. Taking the winning ingredients from his game of football, the bar was raised as the two of them sought excellence together - trusting the partner.
Game 7 in the NBA Basketball finals - Tough loss but a good series, I suggested we blow off steam a few miles down the road - Nashville, TN. Packed crowds and lively music, the city was alive with people. Country music, Western dancing, Singer songwriters, the town was bustling. In a coin toss, the game suddenly changed into a personal dialog just for me. Now don't get me wrong, I know there are plenty of coincidences in life but my faith walk had changed - Yes, the heat was turned up but Yes, the intimate dialog was turned up too.
A new bar, a new band: the celebrations of the Cleveland Cavaliers was streaming on the big screen T.V. but the only sound was a mix of rap, pop music. A bunch of young people on the dance floor pressing in; I joined the crowd. Immediately prior to this night, I spent three days on a journey where the company of strangers along a railroad of formations, touch-backs and safeties, had me trusting God. It was a culmination of hard work and a preface to the long game ahead but I needed water from the sidelines. in perfect timing, a young tall black man with an Antonio Brown smile and an intentionally opened hand offered an old lady like me an invitation to dance. I almost laughed out loud (really- God?) It was a gesture of faith that beckoned me back to the So You Think You Can Dance show and the chip on my shoulder and the need to prove myself in a lifetime of relentless pursuit.
Next - a new DJ took over - base pumping, arms popping, this guy knew his music and for the next 1/2 hour, the energy was awesome as he took the floor for a solo performance. Then in a classic sweep, three more black men stepped onto the dance floor where I was schooled in real dance. Sandwiched Inches in a packed crowd, these men led the entire room in smashmouth football where I experienced dance in a whole new light. Black, white, men, women - It was as if we were in the the midst of a huddle on a football field - where I learned I CAN'T dance but learned the power of people that motivate others. More importantly however, were the bits of trust that was a result of me letting go.
I spent an afternoon at the College Football Hall of Fame where the hands-on experience of being immersed in the sights and sounds of football was a 360 degree view from every angle. From the fans and the first tailgating party (1910 - rivalry game) to the evolution of gear (protecting the player) and the development of the game through technology and good coaching, the personal journey of the athlete was highlighted.
With an All-Access pass lighting my way, I was invited by name into a conversation about college football. The ultra-high definition large screen movie, Game of Your Life brought motion but the hologram images of players such as Peyton Manning attached personal commentary about nutrition, training, family, social media and balancing the demands of being an athlete to the forefront. There were actual copies of grades, SAT scores and accolades for college entrance applications as well as a personal message from each of the inductees on their perspective of success on and off the field and the people that inspired them.
There were hands-on activities where I chose team players based on experience, proximity and academic achievements or spent money based on the needs of the team. I sat as an announcer, coach and player in a variety of formats. Ending with a replica football field, I threw a football in targets and failed miserably until I had a little coaching which left three bulls eye throws in three attempts. Rather than the game, it was the people that made the difference. Their story matters and so does yours. What if God cares about your story? What if people invest in your life because your story is part of their story? What if an interception is thrown in the midst of waning confidence, in order to make you stronger? On and off the football field, it is teammates and coaches that get into the trenches but in a faith story, that is only the beginning of life on and off the field this side of heaven.
God's story told through you - a story with eternal value.
This website is me trusting - and I am NOT good with trust. Maybe by sharing the real me, you will see a bit of yourself but more importantly see God in the lives of simple, broken people like myself. It is NOT easy to give up pride for humility, self-centeredness for service, and ultimately, self-doubt for truth. I would rather rely on my own ability and have people think I can do, be, or have it all but instead, come to the cross with empty hands.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
A little skin in the game
My plan was to fly across the United States and see a few friends, one of which I found after thirty years. She and I had communication through phone calls and letters but something kept us at arms length. Anticipating a reunion, my card to her arrived days before she took a terrible fall resulting in a traumatic head injury where the days turned into weeks which then turned into months. Gone were my chances to connect and instead opened a dialog of prayer.
Respect - I had silently prayed about a missing puzzle piece from a recurring dream I had as a child. Days later her husband posted a random entry on his hospital website which provided clarity about 1) my dream and 2) loving her enough to respect her in the end; I didn't go to her hospital room as a tangible expression of respect. Sometimes you make the game play, stick with intuition and hope it was the right call.
Two weeks ago, an early morning prayer and my silent tears on the West coast as I hoped for her peaceful passing as she drifted on her own having been dis-connected from life support. I later learned she took her last breathe on the East coast about the same time I was praying and with a simple exhale of air and one tear, she let go. I choose to believe that hope and a symphony of prayers from people who loved her paved her way with the sweet petals of humility and love.
Giving up our plans is never easy. Humbled in more ways than I care to share, I took a journey where I didn't know the plan but knew a loving God. Alone and trusting, I found grace in the cracks, through people - on trains, trolleys, churches, in market places, on sidewalks, in a taxi .... and even on a dance floor in a football huddle of strangers surrounded, not just by music, but by intimate, loving prayers.
Giving up my plans means I can only wait - in childlike anticipation ... trusting.
As I watched the opening season of the National Football League, I am reminded how hard the players are hit, on the field from the opposing team and off the field sacked with waning confidence. That is when the shade tree comes in handy - through men and women in the trenches and in relationships where the real you is enough. When you come to the cross with empty hands and an open heart, God rebuilds your life from the ground up; His relationship fills in the gaps with a relentless pursuit.
I stood amongst tall redwood trees - some of which have stood for a thousand years. Empty and broken, this early morning walk where sun was freshly broken, I meandered down hills and staircases with a bible and some paper. Wishing to rest my weary spirit, I came quite by accident to a waterfall and opposite of that was a tree whose roots were bare - hanging tightly to cliff and earth. Hollowed and exposed, it created a type of netted cup where I settled in with a blanket, allowing the spirit of God to wash His sound over me. Water pouring into a broken soul - enough to dry tears and as I slowly got up to walk back into the game, with a Hail Mary, I pray. Hoping faith and prayer is a long touchdown pass to the End Zone.
Trust, special team ... Kick-off.
"There is an old, rare art form in football that is still pulled out from time to time. It's called the Sweep, and it's one of the most basic - and classic - plays in the game. The idea is simple - to run the ball to the outside of the field. In a sweep, the halfback takes the hand-off and heads outside. When it works right, he has blockers in front of him, leading the way. "
Audible- a play called by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage to make a change from the play that was called in the huddle.
Naked Bootleg- a high-risk variation when the quarterback has no blockers pulling out with him (an offensive play predicated upon mis-direction in which the quarterback pretends to hand the ball to another player and then carries the ball in the opposite direction of the supposed ball with the intent of passing or running.
interception- a change of possession where the defense wins the ball back for its offense by catching a pass that was intended for the opposing team's receiver.
gunslinger-quarterback who plays in an aggressive and decisive manner by throwing deep, risky passes. These quarterbacks usually possess the strong arm needed to throw deep effectively.
Hail Mary- a pass thrown by a team that is far away from the end zone and in need of a touchdown to win. It's a desperation pass usually thrown at the end of a half or the game. Simply put, it is a prayer.
Smashmouth Football- A simple philosophy - run the ball and run it again. And then after that, run it again.
Trenches- A term in football referring to the space directly in front and around the offensive and defensive line. This is where most of the blocking takes place and where the defense has the best chance of stopping an offensive play at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes referred to as battlefield.
Source: Idiot's guide to Football
Pictures provided by Fotolia, Videos found on You-Tube, stories are my own.
Tom Dempsey - the longest field goal in history of the NFL, New Orleans Saints against Detroit Lions,
Nov 8, 1970, kicked 63 yards.. born with half a right foot and wore a special shoe.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.