Church Softball

Spent an evening watching a church slow-pitch softball game – a summer ritual we miss being a part of as we travel.  Thought I would share some observations.

For years I had been part of the truly American phenomenon of church softball both as a player and a coach.  Since Lisa and I have been traveling with her job – we have missed out on that experience and I had to give up coaching my son’s church team last summer.  Recently my daughter and I took in a game and I was able to sit back and just observe the going’s on as a simple spectator.

As we drove away from the city we were aware of the sun setting behind us and the glow of the lights illuminating the fields ahead.  A perfect night for softball.  We parked our car and walked with other fans and players toward the softball fields in anticipation of a relaxing evening under the stars.

We made our way to the small bleachers next to our team’s dugout passing players sprawled out in the grass with legs bent awkwardly backward in an attempt to stretch out their muscles.  Others used the backstop fence or bleacher poles to press against.  One slung a bat over his shoulders and used it to twist back and forth – I suppose to loosen those testy lower back muscles.  Some were dressed like professionals, others looked like they just arrived from work.  Some wore braces on their knees.  Some wore braces on their elbows.  One had braced every joint until hardly any skin was left exposed.  There were men in their twenties (or younger) and men pushing (if not surpassing) fifty.

As we sat down on the ridged aluminum seats and wiggled to find a comfortable position, the players began taking the field and tossing softballs back and forth.  Balls soon banged against the fence in front of us as they were thrown high, low, too hard, too soft or just simply missed.  Younger players threw with great intensity – zipping the yellow orbs with the greatest of velocity.  The older players were content to lob back and forth not wanting to damage any further those already damaged rotator cuffs or arthritic elbows.

The umpire yelled for both teams to gather for prayer and the teams circled home plate.  As players removed their caps and bowed their heads, one player stepped into the circle and began what seemed like a really long prayer for such an occasion. I thought it strange that they positioned themselves so uniformly – practically a perfect circle.  In any other setting one would swear the men had gathered to bury a dog and I was not sure if I was expected to bow my head and join in the reverence or sing “Nearer My God To Thee”.  It was much like watching prayers on television and not being sure if I should join in or not – especially those that are video taped.  Someone should write the rules of etiquette regarding prayers in public.  I did notice most of those in the stands stopped talking during this holy moment of reverence so I ceased my conversation as well.  Finally the prayer ended and the two teams wished the other good luck as they both moved into position. “Play Ball!”

George Carlin had a famous routine about how baseball is designed to be more relaxed in comparison to other sports.  Baseball is played in a “park” and the game can go on forever if the teams are tied after the final inning – no “sudden death” as is the harsh term of other sports.  There did not seem to be anything remotely “laid back” about this softball game as it progressed.  Players seemed to grow more intense as the game moved along.  A close play at third resulted in a semi-heated exchange between two opposing players and scores were met with added enthusiasm as the teams interest in winning seemed to grow throughout.  As the intensity grew – so grew the number of injuries.  A middle-aged player tore a muscle of some sort in his thigh while trying to beat out a slow grounder to second base.  From my perspective the second baseman would have had time to go get a coke at McDonald’s in the time it took the hobbling hitter to make it to first and yet he gave it all he had.  After all – this is an important regular season church softball game and a win tonight might determine a higher seed for the all important tournament later on.  Players cheered the man’s hustle with “good job”, “nice try”, “good hit” and he managed a shaky grin while trying to hold together his shredded hamstring muscle though his dark blue “Dickie” work pants.  Time was called for the injured player as he limped back toward his dugout and was replaced by a man much older who could hardly walk – let alone run.  But – “Play Ball!”

The last couple of innings grew more intense and the comments began to fly freely between the two teams and toward the umpire.  The umpire, making all of twenty-five dollars per game, began to have his skills in calling balls and strikes questioned as well as every play (close or not) at first base.  I was struck at how well composed the umpire remained and wondered if he experienced this a lot calling church softball games.  Then I had to wonder if he went to church somewhere.  If I was him – I probably would not.

But finally the game came to an end when one team managed to score enough runs to end the game on what is called a “mercy rule”.  There was this strange silence as the umpire yelled, “Ball game!” and the two teams formed a line to allow a hand shake and a closing “Good game!” salute to each other.  It seemed more appropriate that they end by saying to each other, “We survived!”.

Players gathered up their bats, balls, braces and Ben-Gay and moved toward the parking lot tired, dirty and probably a little ashamed.  My first conclusion was that very little of anything remotely Christian took place tonight – all that was revealed was a lot of flaws, failure and pain.  But then I realized that in the end there was a sort of unspoken forgiveness expressed to one another.  It crossed my mind that what happened tonight was absolutely characteristic of the church.  People striving to succeed, some meeting failure, some expressing joy – some expressing pain, anger and frustration.  But in the end forgiving and being forgiven.

This wasn’t a softball game – this was church.

Have a great day!

Steve

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Grace Will Lead Us Home

After six weeks of enjoying our time at home with family and friends (in particular our time with our new grandson) Lisa and I are ready for our next assignment to travel.  Lisa has been “put in” for jobs in Monterey California, Lawrence Mass. and Hawaii.  Now we wait.  This is the stressful part of traveling – not knowing where or when our next assignment will be.  Our preference would be to stay in the eastern half of the country – but we have to go where the jobs take us.

It is times like this I am reminded again of theologian John Piper’s sound advise about living in God’s grace.  He urges us to live our lives between the verses in the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”.  In the third verse there is the phrase, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. Tis grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.”  Piper suggested that our lives should be lived out in the middle of those two statements – meaning we know God has brought us safely this far in our lives and can rest knowing he will finish the job.

I have written before of my theory that we tend to look back on the past as the “good old days” primarily because we know what happened.  Our ability to see today or tomorrow as good “new days” is difficult since we have no idea what will take place.  Today and tomorrow are unclear and uncertain – so they are often met with worry and even trepidation.  We love yesterday because we survived it – we fear tomorrow because we may not. Piper was aware of that mental mind-set and encourages us to look forward to tomorrow based on our experiences of the past.  The past was not always “good old days” – in fact many of our days past were horrible and nearly devastating.  But we survived somehow.  God brought us through those difficulties safely and now we can look forward knowing His grace continues and will sustain us.

In the past couple of weeks I learned of a former co-worker losing her husband in a tragic automobile accident.  Like so many – I hurt deeply for her and her surviving daughter.  They now will try to pick up where things left off and continue with their lives.  I hope they have found a thousand shoulders to lean on, a thousand souls to grieve with, and a thousand arms to carry their lives forward.  But more than that I hope they will soon see that they can and will survive this terrible tragedy and in so doing – never fear again.  God’s grace will see them through this great loss and his grace will lead them home.

So Lisa and I are resting between those two lines as we wait for our next destination.  We do so with joy and anticipation of good things to come.  But we also know things may not be easy.  We look back on our time in Hanover, Pa. and remember good times – even miss the place.  But we also remember we were without a place to sleep that first night and the anxiety of our first travel job away from home was scary and uncertain.  Yet God came through for us and we survived.  And we know we will survive tomorrow and the next day and the next.

So, here is to looking forward to tomorrow – because we believe grace will lead us home.

Love, Steve and Lisa

If Heaven Lacks Laughter

Lisa and I have enjoyed our time at home for the past month as we have been able to watch little Conner Jack grow into a big, bright-eyed, eight pound all-American boy.  We are so proud of our daughter and “fun-in-law” for how they have managed this first month and expect they will be just wonderful handling a new life with a baby.  For Lisa and I – those years with small children were the happiest days of our lives (although you could never convince us of that at the time).

We are thankful for how God has worked things out for us to be home for Heather, James and Conner Jack over the last five or so weeks. Not only did we get home from California within hours of Heather’s delivery but Lisa was asked to fill in part-time at her old job until we are ready to hit the road again.  Along with that we enjoyed celebrating Lisa’s fiftieth birthday at Disney World and had a blast with friends Roger and Debbie Willoughby and Trudy and Alicia Berry.

Laughter has been an important element in our marriage over the past thirty years and that became even more evident during our trip to Disney.  During our final night we secured a good spot for the Epcot nighttime fireworks show, “Illuminations”.  It had rained off and on during our trip and the rain and wind was pelting us as we waited for the show to start.  We huddled together with our ponchos and umbrellas and Lisa commented that we were in a bad spot as the wind would whip the smoke right into our faces.  I disagreed and so we hunkered down.  As the first rockets ‘red glared’ I noticed smoke begin moving toward us and it seemed to grow steadily as more fireworks exploded above. As the show continued I realized I was squinting into the smoke and pelting rain just trying to get a glimpse of this marvelous show.  I started laughing out loud at myself trying to fight off the wind and rain – not to mention the ashes falling from the exploding bombs overhead.  I then turned to Lisa and while batting my eyes in an exaggerated fashion said, “It’s just so beautiful!”  She laughed so hard I thought she was going to pee herself.

We laughed off and on about that silly moment and I have thought about other moments of ‘out loud – unashamed laughter’ we have enjoyed in our lives and realize that is what we live for – that makes up for all the things we want and can’t have.  It is laughter that has sustained our marriage and family and I know it has to be a gift from God.

My mother would often tell a story about a family in Union County where she grew up that had so much fun together despite having hardly a pot to pee in.  It was their attitude about life that drew her to them.  The story was that one day she was visiting them and a man came to their door saying he was there to cut off their gas for non-payment.  The father, cooking in the kitchen, heard what was said and yelled to him, “Can you wait until I finish cooking this egg?”  My mom loved that story because she desired to have the same attitude – as do I.  We don’t really know what heaven is going to be like – but I hope it will be a place where people laugh a lot.

If heaven lacks laughter – I’m not sure I want to go.

Thanks for reading!

Steve and Lisa