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Competitive Nearsightedness: it’s Treatable

CIMG4384Both teams were there. Both coaches. Lots and lots of parents. The only thing missing was the referee. No one wanted to reschedule this last game of the season, which didn’t determine anything in the standings. We just needed to get it played.

As it happened, there was a parent on each team who was certified as a referee. Both sides agreed to play the game under the officiation of these two dads and abide by the outcome. They each would take a half of the field. At half time, when the teams switched sides, the dads would stay: even exposure to both pairs of eyes, one half on offense, one half on defense.

Man, that dad from the other team, he was BLIND! He called everything against us. But our dad, he was exceedingly fair, giving their team every benefit of the doubt. Really. Not kidding. That’s the way I saw it. But actually, in the end, the fouls called were about the same. If they had been somewhat partial, it went both ways. Season over.

I discovered something that day: my eye bends what I see. If I have a team favorite or a preferred outcome, if I want things to go a particular way, if I want a certain team to win, I tend to see things that way. And think I’m right. In my spectating life, the foul is always on the other team. And even if you point out the transgression committed by my player, I am quick to argue: she pushed first, he was just defending himself, it was inadvertent…. Apparently, I am biased. I see things with my jersey color overlaid.

What a great lesson our sports experience teaches. If I’ve made up my mind what the outcome should be, I’ll see myself as right and act accordingly. Point out my error, and I will swiftly find ways of justifying myself. That doesn’t make me right; it just makes me feel right, and a bit indignant that you can’t see it my way.

Watching those two dad-refs do their best and then watching both teams shake their hands and thank them for the game, improved my vision. I suffer from competitive nearsightedness; I am biased when looking out for my own best interests. Life lived faithfully looks out for the interests of the other, even my opponents, to ensure that they haven’t been wronged.

Developing an unbiased perspective? That requires surrender in service to the game. It requires us actually to embrace and accept the wisdom of “may the best team win.” No, actually. And that’s not easy. It’s unnatural. Gonna take some time, and practice. Everybody gets better with practice.

As one who seeks to live a life which follows Christ, the evidence of my practice is a growing expression of the fruit of the Spirit in my life.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,  goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ~ Galatians 5:22

Am I growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Are you? Are we?

If we’re not getting better, we’re not practicing.

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21 straight makes a perfect game – in softball

Author’s note: On the 8th of September our church began the Complaint Free For 21 Days Challenge. Several of my posts have referenced this effort. This post is an update of my latest attempts. If you’d like to know more about taking the challenge, check us out here or go to the website to get a band or track your progress online.

How hard could it to be get 21 straight batters? I’ve already got twelve outs. Four scoreless innings. Not only scoreless, but hitless. Not only hitless, but walkless and errorless, too. Wow, I have a perfect game going through 4 innings. Bear down. Work hard. Make every pitch count.

Then, I hang that curve ball right over the middle of the plate. I knew it the second it left my hand. Not the zip. Not the rotation. Not the spot that I intended. And there goes my perfect game, sailing right over the center field fence.

I’ve never pitched in the big leagues, but that’s how I imagine it when a pitcher has a perfect game going. Nothing remarkable in the first couple innings, but when the outs are recorded and as the scoreboard signifies the 3 ups, 3 downs, the pressure must build. Don’t blow it!

That’s what this purple band felt like last weekend. I had a perfect game going. Had tallied a number of days in a row. Feeling pretty daggone proud of just how perfect the game was that I was pitching. Also, the pressure was building. Don’t blow it now.

Oh, there had been a couple of questionable calls, but the perfect game was still intact. Until the soccer game. Caught me totally off guard. I mean, for crying out loud, I have coached for years, worked with athletes. My daughters are all certified referees. But “Geez! That ball was off white!!”

And there it was. The complaint. And the band switch, made even more humiliating by the pouring rain and the elasticized sleeve of my jacket on the wrist of the hand holding the umbrella. But that’s not the worst part. Once I had blown my perfect game, the motivation to maintain my streak had vanished. Why not toss in a few more comments now that you’ve already blown it?

Oh, little purple band of mine. You are an illusive perfect game.

So yep, I’m back on the mound again. Got my defenses up, especially in the danger zones. We’ve got the scouting report on the other team. We adjust accordingly for the lefty who usually pulls it or the righty who hits to the opposite field. I’m pretty sure I won’t strike out every batter. But I’ve got a capable defense behind me. And knowing that makes me a better pitcher.

What’s 21 straight batters? Ugh. That seemed so much easier in the dugout before the game. Before the world came to bat, dedicated to defeating my best attempts. I am better than this. Better than them. Perhaps a bit of rosin and a pause before the windup. We can do this. Batter up!

Jump Ball With God

Have you ever watched a kids basketball game? They’re all scrambling around, don’t quite have the ball under control, but they know their objective: get it in the basket. Occasionally, they pass it. Often, they shoot and miss. The tall ones get all the rebounds. This is the way it was when I played basketball as a kid, too.  Except for one thing: jump balls.

In the old days, we jumped them; today, they are simply a change of possession. Oh, I understand the rule change. It really slowed down the game to have to bring that ball over to the “jump” circle,  set the two competitors facing each other, then toss it up for the 50/50 possession opportunity. Inevitably, of course, the tip would go in favor of the taller player. And, at my 5 foot height, a jump was pretty much a forgone conclusion: their ball. At least today, the little guy gets awarded the ball half the time.

The tricky thing about the jump ball call today is when to whistle it. When is the game halted because both teams have equal possession? both with their hands on the ball. The recent fiasco with the NFL sub-referees and the last play of the game where the offensive player was awarded the “tie” ball – even though he just put his hands on the ball in the other player’s hands as they came down to the ground together – points out the challenge. It can be a tough call.

Sports has tons of these calls. The tie goes to the runner. The ruling on the field stands. Innocent until proven guilty. And when things can’t end in a tie, we have to make rules about how to resolve a tie score. Penalty kicks. Free throws. Fewer goals against. Or, for those head to head competitions, we analyze the living daylights out of it from 4 different angles and check 3 timing devices accurate to the thousandth of a second each trained on the same competitor. Really?

Yep. Having things end in a tie does not sit well with us. We don’t like to share.

But I think we’re meant to. And often I find it’s unclear who I’m supposed to share with, how much and in what way. That’s when I find the image of the jump ball helpful. When I give what I am holding onto to God, it’s always a jump ball. He doesn’t wrestle it away so He can have it. He doesn’t rip it out of my hands and tell me how greedy I am, or how stingy I am being. He simply holds on, until I stop struggling against him. Until I realize that what I am holding so tightly He is happy to hold with me. Or, if I insist, he will let me have it.

But when I let Him, we hold it together. It’s not a matter of change of possession. It is, after all, His -all of it.  He has just allowed me to hold it. The ball he’s handed me to play with is our shared possession. All the time.

So when I consider giving something up or giving it away, especially if I am holding it exceptionally tightly and not seeing the pass which would create a scoring opportunity, God seems to say, “Offer it to me. Hold it up to me.” Imagine if I did that with everything of value in my life – which is,  if I’m honest, everything that is worth my time. What if life was just one big series of jump balls with God? Not the toss it up in the air for the tallest one to tip jump ball, but just before that, when the whistle was blown and we were both holding it together. There we would be, face to face, and between us would be the ball. The object of the game. The reason for playing.

My children. My family. My resources. My gifts and talents. My very life.

“Don’t worry about holding this all by yourself,” God might say. “Let’s hold this together. It will be lighter for you this way.”

That would be quite a jump.

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