Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lessons from the dirt

Yesterday a tiny girl pushed me into the dirt. I was playing soccer at Austin Stone's Total City Sports Camp at Raegan High School. We'd been working on somewhat-boring drills with a handful of girls who are interested in learning to play soccer and (hopefully) willing to let us get to know them in the process. Finally, in the last 25 minutes of Monday evening's session, it was time to scrimmage.

I've played a good bit of soccer lately because I've been volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club, but we've been playing indoors, in a gym, because of the heat. But the Total City Sports Camp is in the evening, and we're all willing to brave the heat just for the thrill of lacing up our soccer cleats and pounding the grass (or dirt, as that is mostly what Raegan's practice field is made of).

I was so ready to get out there and play. Not only just to get to play outdoors, but also to work with some high school girls. I've been coaching middle school boys at Boys and Girls Club- and we, literally and figuratively, don't speak the same language. But soccer girls are my FAVORITE. I love me a tough, hard-working high school kid, especially girls who really want to learn to play. It's like food for my soul to kick a ball around with kids like that. I don't really even know why.

Anyway, yesterday was in no way a disappointment. We had a great group of Austin Stone coaches and a handful of high school girls willing to work decently hard. The head coach, Rubey, ran a really solid practice, and taught the girls some good footwork. No offense to her that the drills were boring- drills are always boring compared to playing. She did a really good job, and I was just thankful to be there to help out.

We started to scrimmage, and I scored a goal for my team a little too quickly, maybe, and I felt a little bad for putting one into the back of the net. I decided to take the rest of the scrimmage to just play 50% defense so the players could gain confidence, and distribute the ball to my team-mates every time I had possession. Despite my resolve to cool-it, my early goal had already put a target on my back as a threat to the other team. So when one of the girls saw me get possession of the ball, she responded aggressively- by plowing me down from behind.

I was a little shocked at how such a tiny girl (she could not have been much more than 4 feet tall) had managed so lay me out flat into the dirt. I picked myself up and dusted off the dirt. We weren't really calling fouls, and, except for a scrape on my knee and burning palms, I was alright, so I didn't say anything. It would have been a waste of time to have stopped the game, and it might have broken the girl's confidence to have scrutinized what was an attempt to play good defense. So, I got up, dusted off, and kept on playing.

I've been thinking about that interaction today... about how it was wrong for that girl to knock me into the dirt and for nothing at all to happen afterwards. It was a foul. It broke the rules. But it never occurred to me to hold her accountable to the rules, because they've probably never been explained to her. So I let it go. But if she had been my age, my size, and had my level of game-knowledge, I would have handled the whole thing differently.

Life is a lot like this for me. People push me down from time to time. Or I see them push each other down. But they're a lot like that girl that laid me out- they may not have ever heard what the Bible has to say about playing life by God's rules. So, in those cases, I usually get up and go on. But when someone who professes to know the rules, God's rules, pushes me down, I get up and let them know that I know that they've committed a foul.

I've done that here lately. And the person that put me in my face on the dirt, has just walked away. Now, I suppose it's a good thing that life is not really a soccer game because if it was, then I'd likely tackle her in the next play and she might not be able to walk without a limp for a couple of days- if you have ever seen me play soccer, you know this is not an exaggeration. But, it's not that simple, is it? Jesus said to offer your other cheek when someone slaps one side of your face. So, after dusting myself off, I suppose that all I can do is just go back to playing.

But one thing I've learned from my plow-down at Raegan. The whole reason that I got knocked down in the first place was because I posed a legitimate threat to the other team. It wouldn't have occurred to me to have gotten up and thought, "Gosh, I got pushed over. I must not be any good at soccer." I just got back up and played. But, in life, when I get pushed over, I do that. I think, "I must not be very good at relating to others. I must not be worth loving or putting time into." Why is that? When I got up and kept playing, I was the same player I was before I fell down. So it is with life. Only, perhaps, after a fall, we can actually come out playing a bit better for having remembered that it's only by God's grace that we can get up and stand at all.

I think that God wants that kind of player on His team. I don't think He is saying, "turn the other cheek" because He wants us to be wimpy. I think He wants us to know that the person that slapped us has absolutely no authority over who we are and how we respond to Him.

So, I'm going to go ahead and write this out, because I need to hear it, maybe someone else does too. I am good at soccer. I played well, and someone pushed me down. I got back up. And I was still good at soccer.

I hate that sounds sort of arrogant, and I don't mean it to be. God gave me the ability to play soccer because He wanted to use it, and He has and is. So, no matter how hard I fall, I am no less of a player because I got pushed down. So what it is about you, then, that someone is pushing at? If you fall, get back up, and go on... because, even after the fall, you still might out-play everyone else on the field.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Writin' Day

Today is a big day. It is my first official "writing day." Yesterday, after three months of hashing through the book of John and lots of cross references, I "finished" the research stage of my book. I put quotations around the word finished because I know that there is still a lot of study that will need to be done to fine tune the message of the book. For example. I am still craving at least two Warren Wiersbe books to help me understand how in the world New Testament writers know when David was referring to the coming Christ when writing a Psalm hundreds of years before His birth. But I digress...

By the end of the day yesterday, I had finished my "wife work" for the week, had walked my dogs, fed my husband, run a few miles and emailed one of my pastor's with the outline for my book. So today, though I've spent time drinking coffee and reading books, I'm left without excuse. It's time to write.

One of the books I am reading is a book by a writer named Anne Lamott. My brother gave me the book a couple of Christmases ago, and though it's sat on my nightstand all this time, I haven't read it yet. I'm weird about books like that. It's like I wait to see if there is a more "right" time to read them than the moment they are given to me. Maybe that's because I'm lazy. Or incredibly self-willed. Or maybe, just maybe, God has something to do with the timing.

Either way, I was reading Bird by Bird, by Ms. Anne Lamott this morning, and loved this lesson she learned from her father, who was also a writer (and who taught in a prison creative-writing program) Speaking of her father, she writes, "He taught us to be bold and original and to let ourselves make mistakes, and that Thurber was right when he said, 'You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backwards." But while he helped the prisoners and me to discover that we had a lot of feelings and observations and memories and dreams and (God knows) opinions we wanted to share, we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment: that at some point we had to actually sit down and write."

So here goes nothing, ladies and gents, I am actually sitting down and writing. I've learned this week that trying to do things in my own natural ability has results the equivalent of getting bird doo in your hair. I actually saw a lady running at Town Lake this week who had bird doo in her hair, which is why I use this as an example. There she is, out running, getting fit like the rest of Austin, trying to do what she thinks is right and good for her and is going to help her fit into the world around her when splat! a bird doos on her hair. She jogged past me and I noticed the doo and I wondered if she was even aware of it yet. Either way, the whole situation was just unfortunate for her, though I expect the bird found some relief.

I have been in similar circumstances this week. Trying to be bold and brave and truthful and working in my own area of expertise (words) to try to come out on top and fit in and make things right and make sense, I encountered the emotional equivalent of bird poopy being dropped into my life. I didn't feel so bold and confident afterward. Because I guess no matter how strong and confident and sure of ourselves we are on our own, life can still poo on us.

But God can protect us from such things. At least, it seems that if I weren't so sure of myself, but rather sure of Him, He'd help me keep an eye out for those circumstances that could get a little gross.

So pray for these eyes to see and these ears to hear and this heart to be pure and that through His grace, I'll write some words down that will bring Him glory and help people find the Way.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Close Call

I have never been as scared as I was this afternoon. I got home from soccer at the Boys and Girls Club, and walked up the steps to our apartment. I was on the phone with Andy, complaining about something that I've been angry over for days. When I opened the door, the dogs ran past me down the stairs. They do this from time to time, and usually they just turn the corner at the bottom of the stairs, so they can do their number one in the grass.

I set my keys and purse down inside and then turned to go back out and collect my animals. But when I reached the bottom of the stairs, I only saw Daisy looking back up at me. I called for Gatsby, but didn't see him anywhere. Panicked, I told Andy I had to go, hung up, and ran Daisy back up the stairs into the apartment. I searched inside quickly, thinking that maybe I had imagined Gatsby running past me but that he'd actually stayed in the apartment. He wasn't inside. I shut Daisy in and sprinted back down the stairs. I ran all over the place, frantically searching all of the places that I normally take Gatsby for a walk, certain that he had to be somewhere.

If you know Gatsby, you know that he is not a dog that runs away. He always comes when I call him. He's actually very easy to communicate with, and he understands people's voices and emotions extremely well. So I could not imagine my dog being able to hear my panick-stricken voice and not running to find me. But I called and called, and looked everywhere I knew to look, and I could not find him.

I called my mom completely panicked. I was gasping for breath, as the reality of what was actually going on, began to sink in. "I cannot find Gatsby!!" I cried. She kept asking me to repeat myself because she couldn't understand me. She encouraged me that I would find him, to keep looking. Andy arrived home as I was talking to her. I had called him back after hanging up so abruptly to let him know Gatsby was lost. "I'm on my way!" he said.

When he got home, we combed the apartment complex again, and asked all our neighbors, the guys that do maintenance, the people who work in the office, and the kids who play in the courtyard if they'd seen our little black and white dog. No one had, but they said that they'd keep an eye out.

We got in the car and drove the streets around our apartment complex. I was barely looking at this point. I was distraught and thought God might be punishing me for the bad attitude that I had been wrestling lately. We paused in a parking lot, and I prayed through gigantic tears, "Lord, please forgive me. Please don't let Gatsby suffer because I have been wrong. If it's your will, Lord, please let us have him back again."

We went back home and Andy began to call animal shelters and veterinarians. I called Lacy, and left her a weepy voicemail with the bad news. She called back and said, "Call the police!" I told Andy, and he did. I walked in and out of the apartment while Andy faithfully hunted down all of the ways to track a lost pet in Austin. I would walk out and wander circles around the apartment building. Then I'd come back in and sit on the porch or look out the window, waiting for him to come home.

I called my mom again. Through tears, I told her that I thought God might be punishing me. She said, "Meredith, I don't think that's the kind of God we serve. But maybe God is trying to teach you something. And when Gatsby comes home, you remember this." She seemed very confident that he would return. She reminded me of times her Cocker Spaniel, Justice, used to disappear for hours on end, chasing scents out in the woods, and would return bedraggled and exhausted. But my heart was heavy. I was not sure that I would ever see Gatsby again. I was afraid that maybe someone had grabbed him and taken him away. I was terrified that he might be stuck in a fence or a hole or something somewhere and that he would die there alone, thirsty, hungry, afraid. And I knew that it would be my fault. Because I was more concerned with my complaint than with watching my dog, and I took my eye off him, and that was all it took.

Every now and then I'd break down into tears and wails when I would think about the fact that he was not here with us, and Andy would hold me and we'd ask God to have mercy.

After almost an hour and a half, mercy came in the sound of a voice outside the door. A man's voice was asking someone, "Do you know where the people live that have the black and white Cocker Spaniel." I heard him and ran out the door. He recognized me, I guess. He was a neighbor Andy had talked to earlier. He and some friends were out working on their truck during all of this chaos. "I found your dog," he said.

I followed him, crying, across the parking lot. I was still a little bit afraid of getting my hopes up. I thought that maybe it would be some other dog or something, for some reason. But while I was walking across the asphalt, I could hear my Gatsby barking. Nothing has ever sounded so good. Two guys were keeping him cornered so that he couldn't run off, and that's why he was barking. Gats never did like big guys in wife-beaters. But they were the friendliest faces in the world. I ran to my buddy and picked him up and dissolved into "thank yous" and lots of tears.

When we got home, Andy, Gatsby, Daisy and I collapsed on the floor in our office. We kept thanking God and praising Him for being so merciful to us. I am amazed at His faithfulness, His goodness, His great mercy. Gats is like my child. It would have been devastating not to have found him.

I prayed Psalm 34 to the Lord when I got home. I love verse six so much. I think it truly applies to this situation.

"This poor man cried out and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles."

Apart from just being amazed at God's faithfulness in answering prayer, I learned something from this experience. The situation that was causing my complaint had to do with the way that I have been treated and/or perceived by other people. I waste a lot of time getting really worked up about other people's thoughts toward me. I try to counter that with what God says about me, but sometimes I hone in on their voices, not His. But in the hour of my need, I did NOT consider them at all. They were powerless in this situation, as was I. God alone knew where my buddy was. God alone could protect him and bring him back to me. God alone did.

My mom was right. I serve a God of incredible grace and mercy. He disciplines those He loves, that is true. But His grace has poured out to me, once again, today. And I am reminded that He is so important. His words and His thoughts toward me are what really matters. And when I waste time focusing elsewhere, grievous consequences can ensue.

So, thank you God, for your great mercy. Thank you for hearing our prayers and answering them. Thank you for being near to the brokenhearted and saving those who are crushed in spirit. Thank you for bringing my little black and white dog home safe and sound. I hear you. I see you. And you are what matters.