I’m a basketball player. Or I should probably say, I used to be a basketball player. I know it’s hard to believe that this almost 5’3” old lady played basketball, but it’s true. I played in junior high, high school, and even college. But what I’m not is a softball player. Oh, I wanted to be so badly, but I was just no good at it. I tried to play in high school and then even church league softball as a grown up, but really was never any good. Scott tried so hard to help me, but it was just no use. But these past few weeks, I have had softball/baseball on the brain. But maybe not the type of baseball you are thinking.
It started the week of Valentine’s Day. I am currently the interim youth minister at our church, and I took a group of girls to Gatlinburg for the Encounter 2015 youth retreat. Everything was going just perfectly until Saturday night when one of our sweet girls apparently got the stomach bug 😦
She had already told me she was feeling nauseous, so she laid out on a bench for that evening’s worship service. After it was over, I went to get the van and pick the girls up at the door. I pulled up, and everyone got in the van. Our hotel was only half a mile away, but in that short amount of time, our whole world went insane. That’s when the stomach bug hit with a vengeance!
See, we totally forgot to give her a bag to carry with her just in case she got sick in the van. So we had just barely left the Gatlinburg Convention Center when the vomiting began… and kept on and on and on! She was sitting in the front row, so when it started, it went all over her and right in between the driver and passenger seats. And of course, being a group of girls on a trip to Gatlinburg, we had several shopping bags up there from the goodies we had bought during the day. Plus, my backpack was up there with all our travel documents, my wallet, Bible, and everything else I needed for the trip. I’m still not sure how I did this, but as I was still driving, I grabbed my backpack before anything got on it and held it in my lap, while rolling the window down, trying to console our little sick girl, and trying not to get sick myself! My other adult chaperone, Amberlyn, was also trying to grab her stuff, and roll her window down. Plus, apparently, she got the impression I was fixing to pull over to let the student out so she could get sick outside the van, so Amberlyn opened her door as I turned left and I about threw her out of the van! Let me just say, the other girls in the back were dying laughing as this live action movie was being acted out right in front of them!
With God’s help and Amberlyn, we got the student cleaned up and in the bed, and somehow was able to get the van somewhat clean, at least enough to make the trip back home the next day. That next morning, as Amberlyn and I were still trying to decide if the previous night’s happenings were reality or just a dream, Amberlyn said, “sometimes life just throws you curveballs”. And I would have to say, that night, life did just that.
Since that weekend, I feel as though multiple curveballs have been pitched to several dear friends of mine. Let’s take a look at life’s ‘SportsCenter’ for a recap of the pitches I’ve seen over these last few weeks:
1 – Young mom at our church with 4 young children had a severe infection develop in the incision site from a biopsy she had. Unscheduled, mandatory vacation at the St. Vincent’s Hospital was required, which also happened to be the week of big, random snow here in central Alabama. So her husband, who also happens to work nights, took care of all the kiddos (with some help from family). Curveball.
2 – The mom of one of our precious students in youth ministry from several years ago died of cancer. Curveball.
3 – The grandson of a couple at our church was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and passed away at the age of 7 months. Curveball.
4 – A man at our church had an outpatient procedure done which ended up being a much bigger surgery than planned. In much pain and was in the hospital for 2 nights. Curveball.
These are just 4 pitches that I personally saw/knew of that have happened since Valentine’s Day. There are many, many more. My Facebook feed is full of them. Life is not kind. Life is not fair. Some pitches aren’t as harsh has others. My cleaning up some vomit out of the church van seems like I was hitting off of a tee when compared to the actual passing of moms and grandbabies. But in the heat of the moment, even vomit can knock the breath right out of you.
The more I thought about these terribly unfair pitches, I started to think more about who the players are in this larger than life game of baseball. We, humankind, are the batters. We are up at bat, trying to at least get on base with each experience, and if we are lucky enough, we might knock it out of the park. The stands, of course, are full of our family, friends, and even strangers, watching how you respond to the pitch. Are you going to swing and hit? Are you going to strike out? Are you going to play it safe and walk? Are you going to just quit before it’s your time at bat?
But I believe the main misconception regarding this game is who is playing the role of pitcher. A lot of people tend to think that God is the pitcher. He’s up there on the mound, throwing pitches at you, seeing if you can handle the heat. Like He gets some thrill about making you sweat, trying to get you out. Like He’s the opponent – He’s the enemy.
Nothing could be further than the truth. These curveball pitches aren’t coming from His hands. These pitches are just part of life. I don’t really even think that Big Red (aka Satan) is the one behind these pitches. I don’t like to give him that much credit! The truth is, we live in a fallen creation ever since Adam and Eve had a fruit snack so, so long ago. After that, nothing has ever been the same. Nothing is perfect. Bad pitches are just part of the game. We get sick, we lose our jobs, we get injured, we get our hearts broken. Life happens.
But to me, the most important role in all this is the role of coach. To me, that is who God is. In this example, He’s my coach. He’s with me in practice, teaching me the skills I need to be a productive player. He’s at the game, when I’m in the dugout waiting for my turn at bat, sharing His sunflower seeds with me. He’s at first base when I’m at the plate, cheering me on to hit it with all I have. He’s at third base, telling me when to stay and also when to run like heck to home plate. And He’s always at home, cheering me on as I score, picking me up and telling me that He knew I could do it all along. That’s my God. That’s my Coach.
But He’s also there when I strike out. He’s there when I quit before the game is even over. He’s there when the pitch is wild and it actually hits me. He’s there when I tweak my hamstring from running as hard as I can between first and second base. We can never be too broken, too dirty, or too disappointing for our coach. He’s there, arms wide open, just waiting for me to come back to Him.
I’m not trying to make light of tragedy by comparing it to the silly game of baseball. But just like any good coach knows how to effectively talk to their players, God knows how to speak to me. And apparently I needed to have a lesson in baseball. I needed to be reminded that bad things will happen, but it’s up to me what my response will be. Will I step up to the plate with confidence, ready to bat at whatever comes my way? Or will I cower in fear and doubt, wondering if this pitch will be the one that does me in?
I’m actually learning to be grateful for the curveballs. Without the curveballs, you never truly appreciate the good, easy pitches. C.S. Lewis has a quote about pain and tragedy that I love. He states “We can even ignore pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Sometimes the only time we actually even pay attention to God is when we are in the midst of tragedy. Even if we are questioning Him, at least we are talking to Him, something of which we do not do near enough of.
There are several stories in the Bible about people who went through hard times. Infertility, sicknesses, diseases, death, persecutions, wars, infidelities, and the list goes on and on and on. But today, I cling to this scripture, straight from my Coach’s mouth: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) See, sometimes we forget that 2000 years ago, Christ was actually our pinch hitter. He went to bat for us, and made the ultimate power play. Not just knocking that ball out of the park, but out of this world. He has already won the game! And through His victory, I can be victorious! So keep your chin up, shoulders back, elbows in, knees bent, and swing with all you got.