Boys and Basketball

Basketball Hoop

Yesterday, the weather was amazing. The temperature topped out at about 70 degrees, and the sky was bright blue most of the day. We could play outside without getting too hot, and I didn’t have to yell at the kids to keep their jackets on–we left them at home.

I love the location of my home, right next to the neighborhood pool and playground. I swear if we had to pack up and load into the minivan to drive to the front of the neighborhood, we’d never get there. Luckily, my little monkeys just need me to open our gate and walk next door.

Yesterday evening, that’s just what we did. We began our journey a little later than planned, missing the most warmth from the sun. Punky Brewster was far too enticing for the kids, and this mama was far too tired to put up a fight. We made it to the playground around five, however, and the kids released their abundance of energy.

I had wished we arrived earlier, though, when I saw the teenaged boy playing basketball. Caleb immediately took off toward him.

“Caleb, leave him alone. He wants to practice.”

But the young man just smiled and encouraged Caleb to come and play. I watched as my five-year-old and this high school-aged boy took turns dribbling and shooting hoops.

I felt a little uneasy, not of this young man, but of my son interfering.

“He’s not going to leave you alone now,” I warned him, but he just smiled and assured me he was okay with Caleb playing.

A few minutes later, another teenaged boy parked his car and joined his friend on the asphalt court. The boys–closer to men than boys, really–showed Caleb how to shoot baskets, teaching him to bend his knees and the proper way to hold the ball.

Frankly, I was impressed, especially when they gave Hannah Grace a try, too.

I’m sure these guys had planned to get together to have a game of one-on-one, and here they were giving lessons to the little boy making granny shots. They wanted to run free on the court, not avoid the little girl dancing to the music in her head and periodically shouting, “I see my shadow! Six more weeks of winter!” Their plans were interrupted–they were inconvenienced–so they simply changed their plans.

They were kind, and they were patient. While I watched them run to Caleb’s aid when the ball rebounded off his head for the second time, I prayed, “God, how I hope Caleb is like them when he’s a teenager!”

And then I thought to myself, “God, make me more like them now.”

On what exceptional young adult would you like to brag? What have they taught you? Have a great weekend!

*photo courtesy of Ben Unleashed via Flickr Creative Commons

Sex, Religion, and Gymnastics

photo by Rick McCharles

For the majority of my childhood, the gym was my home. Every day after school, I put on a leotard and my hair up into a ponytail and went to practice. At one point,  I worked out six days a week for four to five hours a day. Spending that many hours away from home, it’s not surprising that many of the lessons I learned about life took place on that square floor mat.

Amidst chalk-filled air and between turns on the vault runway, our group of adolescent gymnasts had conversations about sex that would make Hugh Hefner blush. The hormones among us were out-of-control, and, given the fact that we didn’t have time to date, we verbalized our curiosities as soon as they came to mind, and we had no shame as far as whom we would ask. I’ve heard that teenaged boys are disgusting and that locker room talk is foul, but I can’t imagine anything more crude than what came out of the mouths of us four foot seven girls with pink leotards and matching hair scrunchies.

While we discussed topics that were most unholy, a group of religious coaches formed a protective circle around us. The owner and head coach of the gym was a devout Christian–a Pentecostal– who prayed before every practice with us, and while he did not require that his staff follow his faith, many did.

During my time at the gym, I remember having coaches who were Methodist, Catholic, and Mormon. And while we would ask them questions about sex and when they had their first experience (I know; we had no shame), we also would ask them questions about their faith.

I don’t remember what started the conversation (maybe sex), but I remember sitting on the floor mat with Jerry and telling him my confusion:

“I know that Jesus died for my sins, but I don’t understand why he died for my sins.”

I had grown up Catholic and believed with my whole heart that Jesus died for me–I had that message pounded into my head since I was little–but I had no idea how Jesus ended up on the cross and what his death meant for me.

And there on that dusty mat, Jerry filled in the missing pieces. He explained that in the Old Testament, God had set up a system for the Israelites to follow. God could not allow sin, and we should die as a result of sin, but God would allow the sacrifice of a perfect lamb in place of us. In addition to this sacrifice, the shedding of blood for sin, God also commanded the priest to lay his hands on a goat and pray, symbolically transferring the sin of the people onto this animal. This scapegoat was then sent into the wilderness away from the camp, taking the sin of the people on its head.

God fulfilled the law by sending Jesus. No longer did we need to sacrifice a perfect lamb in place of us; Jesus acted as that sacrifice for all who believed. And like the scapegoat, He took our sins on his head and bore our shame. With his death and resurrection, Jesus died in our place and conquered death so that we can share eternal life with Him in heaven after our imperfect lives here on earth.

When I look back on my time at the gym, sometimes I wonder how I didn’t end up with a carload of kids before I was 20. In reality, I know that we were a good group of girls, and I’m glad for the time we spent talking that didn’t leave much time for doing. And I’m glad for that group of coaches–I don’t know what prayers they sent up for us on their own, but I do know their words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

These ears listened and believed.

Did a sport or coach help to shape you as a person? Did an area outside of the church or your family have a profound effect on your faith? Sharing my thoughts today with Jen.

 

The ‘What If’ Game

 

image via photobucket.com

 

I’ve decided God wants to keep me humble, as I’ve seen the limelight shine in other directions. Normally, I’m okay with others having their moments of glory instead of me because I wasn’t doing my task  for recognition in the first place, but one time was the exception. For ten years I had trained as a gymnast and sacrificed a ‘normal’ childhood. When other kids went out to play or spent their teenage years on the phone, I was spending my time at the gym. So I had a hard time fighting back tears when the announcer skipped over my name. When the six other girls from Region 8 competing at Nationals stepped forward after hearing their names and raised their arms in a salute, I stood back awkwardly, not sure what I should do.

Perhaps this moment set the tone for the competition. Even though I was overlooked, I was determined to have one outstanding meet. Our team started on floor, and I gave a solid performance. The rest of the team looked good, and we established early that Region 8 was here to win. We then moved to the vault. I had two chances to perform my handspring front, and I landed each successfully with a small step.

By this point in the competition, I was having fun. I cheered for girls on my team whom I normally competed against, and those few hours as teammates formed a bond and, in same cases, a friendship that would continue after the floor music and flashing scores had stopped.

As we moved to the bars, my excitement moved to a nervous energy. Bars had always been my worst event, but this particular season I showed consistency that had been lacking previously. I wanted to keep that consistency going, help my team with a high score and my own chances for a personal best all-around score.

And as I gripped those bars, muscle memory took over. I swung with grace and ease from one skill to the next. I felt my legs squeeze tightly together during my release move–I kept perfect form–and when I let go of the bar one final time to dismount, I landed without a movement. I was rewarded with a 9.625, the highest score on my team and enough to put me in the finals for the uneven bars.

But the meet was not over. Region 8 still needed to compete on the balance beam, and everyone in the auditorium knew it. As gymnasts from the other teams finished their final event, they found their way over to the balance beam area to send their wishes of wobbles and falls our way. I didn’t notice them, however. I was too busy staring at the judges, wondering why they still hadn’t signaled for me to begin my routine.

I was up first in my group, and I stood nervously awaiting to complete my last event. But the judges weren’t ready. Other teams were finishing their events, but the group of judges were conversing over a score inquiry from the last team on beam. I had waited so long to begin my routine that my coach finally came up to me and whispered in my ear to go ahead and sit down. And it was at that moment, as I had begun to go to my seat, that the judge raised her arm, letting me know it was time to begin my routine.

I don’t dwell on this event or hold regret, but I have often wondered what if I had taken a couple seconds to regain my composure and focus before returning my salute to the judge. If I had taken that time instead of immediately acknowledging the judge who had kept us all waiting, would I have stuck my routine?

From the first move of my beam series, I knew I was off. I threw my back-handspring to the right, and I couldn’t pull the rest of the series over to avoid the fall. And with that fall fell all the energy and excitement we had carried with us through the other three events. The girl after me fell. Others as well. And we and the crowd knew the moment in the limelight was no longer ours.

After my routine, my coach came over to let me know that before beam I was second in the nation all-around. I remember thinking if he had told me that before my routine, would it have made a difference? If I had known how close I was to standing atop that podium, would I have nailed beam as well? And if I hit my beam routine and kept going the positive momentum, would the other girls have followed suit?

Of course, there’s no way to know and no reason to dwell on the event. But every so often my mind’s eye replays that fall on the beam, and I cringe. And every so often, I recall the announcer skipping over my name at the beginning of the meet, and I realize it just wasn’t my time to shine in the limelight.

I actually started this post last week for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop and decided I needed to finish it. I’m glad to be back today after a few days away to Dollywood and a couple days after that recouping! I look forward to catching up on all your blogs and comments. I’d love to read below if you have a sports/performance memory that occasionally replays in your mind? Do you ever get caught up in the ‘what if’ game?

Adding to the Baseball Greats: Josh Hamilton, the Rangers, and a Ginger Ale Toast

There’s something about a good baseball story that gets me every time.  I don’t pretend to follow the sport closely or know much about the players–in this season of my life, I know more about Larry the Cucumber’s moral epiphanies and Curious George’s adventures than the teams heading to the World Series–but I can’t look away when a highlight reel is playing.

Maybe it’s memories of dates with my husband, sitting in the outfield on summer nights when the heat of the day has subsided, clapping to silly cheers, and biting into a stadium hot dog and soft pretzel–both with huge globs of yellow mustard–that help turn my heart toward the sport.  Maybe it’s the influence of my father and remembering the stories that he shared, stories of Joe DiMaggio and baseball players who turned in their gloves for guns during World War II, stories of his own time as a player under a coach who took a group of last place boys and trained them into championship men, stories of his time as a pitcher and his one-hitter that still ended in a loss.  Or maybe it’s the soft spot in my heart for the little guy and loving the stories of the unlikely hero who took a team who was losing by one to winning by three in one play.

To this day I can still picture Sid Bream rounding the bases, the Atlanta Brave not known for speed, running the fastest he had probably ever run, huffing around each base, and finally sliding into home ahead of the tag in a ninth inning, two-out situation as Skip Caray yelled, “Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!”  It was 1992 when this play happened, yet any Atlanta Braves fan can recall this moment that sent the Braves to the World Series and chills down our spines.

Baseball has a rich history, and these stories and memories have made a lasting impression on this little suburban mom.  Last week, baseball gave me another story to file away among the great ones.

The story of Josh Hamilton is inspirational in and of itself–a superstar rookie with all the promise of a baseball great throws away his career for his drug and alcohol addiction.  Yet years later this man grabs his wasted life by the collar and starts again sober, finding faith in God and meaning in his life, and the baseball talent he had almost lost for good.  Yet the story goes on….

This man goes on to receive the award for MVP from the Texas Rangers as they clinched the American League championship last week.  But what makes this story great is not what happened on the field but off.  As the game ended and the teammates gathered to celebrate, they put aside their champagne bottles and beer cans and whipped out ginger ale out of respect for their teammate, Hamilton.  Previously, Hamilton had excused himself during times of celebration so as not to be tempted by the substance that he had allowed to almost destroy his life, but this time, his teammates took away that temptation for the moment, putting aside their wants for the need of Hamilton.

Under a fountain of ginger ale, this team celebrated together, not one player left out, as they rejoiced over their achievement.  In this world where our sports idols and movie stars frequently disappoint by their inability to say ‘no’ to the pleasures of the moment, in a society where ‘gimme’ is a favorite word and people are adamant about exercising their rights even if they are wrong, it’s refreshing to see a team who was able to say, ‘wait.’  It’s refreshing to see a team put into action what being part of team really means, waiting ten minutes to whip out the traditional champagne  so that their teammate could enjoy his own kind of bubbly.

The kind of compassion the Texas Rangers demonstrated adds one more reason why baseball has my heart.  So I’ll lift my glass of ginger ale and toast the Rangers with best wishes for an incredible World Series, and I’ll look forward to the memories they will give us to tuck away with those other baseball greats.