Batter Up!

I wasn’t expecting to learn a lesson at the ballpark that day, but that’s God for you…always ready to show His children the way in unexpected places.

As a Children’s Pastor, I enjoy being invited to the various activities of my “church kids.”  I can’t make them all, but I try to go to as many ballgames, recitals, and plays as my calendar and family schedule will allow.  I think it sends a message to my tiny church tribe that they matter OUTSIDE of the church building, and that’s important to me.

This particular evening found me at the ballpark watching what might be one of THE most entertaining sporting events on all of the Planet Earth:  a t-ball game for 4-year olds.  Is there anything better?  Guaranteed entertainment!

Next up to bat:  Tommy.

I didn’t know him from church, but a nearby mom mentioned to me that Tommy wasn’t always “feelin’ it” when it came to t-ball.  I didn’t understand the depth of that statement until I watched him during his first time at bat.

Observing Tommy, it was clear that he was indeed not “In It To Win It.”  Everything about his stance and swing said, “I AM OVER IT. AMEN.”  The only way he could have put in less effort would have been to put the bat down.

After missing so many blessed times, Tommy’s bat finally made contact with the ball.  Hallelujah! The fans in the stands began to cheer wildly as he turned to run to first base…only he didn’t run.

He walked.

And not just any walk, mind you.  He walked slower than I’ve ever seen any kid walk to a base in all my t-ball-watching days.

The look on his face said to the opposing team, “Go ahead. Tag me. I am not concerned. I’ll be in this general area if you need me. Don’t hurry yourselves on my account.”  Even though his coaches and parents were strongly encouraging him (read “screaming”) to run, he was not having it.

Then, as if his slow walk and come-what-may attitude wasn’t enough, once he made it all the way to first base, he SAT DOWN.    All.Done.Thank.You.

In case you’re thinking he might have been in danger of being tagged out during his slow walk to the base…no.  This is t-ball, people.  The ball went through the arms and legs of nearly every kid.  Their effort was epic (and funny), but Tommy was NEVER in danger of being touched by the ball OR an opponent OR the will to seem interested.

Just when I thought this could not be more entertaining, the next miniature batter made a successful hit and off they ran to first.  Tommy, in the opposite of “a hurry,” eventually lifts himself up from the base and starts to walk to second.

Same slow walk. Still no chance of running.  Stay in it, Tommy.

By the time he made it to home plate, walking the ENTIRE way, three runners had passed him.  As I was laughing at how non-committed this little guy was, I felt God’s Spirit tap me on the shoulder.  “You’ve been acting like Tommy, you know.  And that’s not how I intend for you to live.”

Oh.

He was right.  I knew it immediately.

I hadn’t been putting my whole heart into “running the bases” of my life at that time.  That particular t-ball game was near the end of not just the school year, but also of a long, challenging year of ministry at a new-to-me church.

I was tired.  I knew I had been slipping into patterns of apathy and laziness, but I had been ignoring it.  I wasn’t taking care of myself the way I should have and it was starting to show in every area of my life.

I was still going “up to bat”, but I wasn’t really trying to hit a home run and, when I did manage to connect with the ball, I certainly wasn’t running.  A half-effort is super cute on a 4-year old on the t-ball field.  It’s not that attractive on a 44-year old who’s been blessed with the gifts of a beautiful life, but is burning out due to a lack of balance. I simply wasn’t taking care of myself the way God intended.

So, sitting in those stands that night, I asked God to forgive me for my lack of real effort and asked Him to help me live a better balance.  I needed more rest, real food, and realistic boundaries and I needed Him to help me figure it all out.  A year later, I can attest to the fact that balance is key!  Rest works wonders and boundaries, though challenging to keep, are blessings.

If we’re going to “run the race” set out for us, we’re going to have to take the time to come to Him and rest.  There’s no healthy way to do one without the other.

 

Messy

I somehow managed to catch it.  I hadn’t been one of the multitudes who kept vigil on Animal Adventure Park’s pregnant giraffe, April, since the YouTube feed was set up in February.  She wasn’t really on my radar at all, honestly.  I’m prone to binge watching a show on Netflix like any good American, but watching a pregnant giraffe walk around her pen in a New York zoo for weeks on end isn’t going to make my “must see” list.

But, staying in bed past the alarm on a lazier than usual Saturday morning, I grabbed my phone and tuned in just in time.  I watched mesmerized with about 1.2 million of my closest strangers as April did what seemed wildly impossible…birthing a  5′ 9″, 130 baby.  I held my breath and was completely captivated by the whole experience.

April wasn’t what fascinated me, although BIG PROPS to Mama Giraffe. Ouch.

It was the calf.  I kept wondering what that calf was thinking?  How uncomfortable is this for him?  Does he feel as stuck as he looks?  Is he liking being licked on at this point? Is he aware he’s being pooped on right now?  What was it like to fall that far onto the ground and then have all manner of after-birth splash down on his head?  “‘Welcome to life,’ baby animal!  Try not to drown before you even get started.”

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that calf today, Easter Sunday.  Today has been a day of celebrating, not a birth (that’s Christmas), but a rebirth. Jesus died and rose again and because of that sacrifice and miracle, we are reborn.  We’re reborn once and for all into God’s family, but also over and over again in a million little ways.

Rebirth, like birth, can be very messy business.  The rebirth of Jesus required a trial, a devastating beating, ridicule and rejection, and a ghastly crucifixion.  Out of His pain, our hope was reborn.

Jesus had choices, I guess.  The Son of God could have called down angels…could have wiped out His enemies…could have run away.  But that’s not Who He is. He chose the cross, even after a night spent pleading with His Father for another way…any other way.  He chose forgiveness and mercy, even while hanging from nails.

We have choices, too.  The rebirth Jesus calls us to can be messy.

We can get stuck, unable to figure out the next right thing to do. Sometimes we get pooped on by other people’s opinions and plans.  Sometimes the fall is way further down than we realized it would be and we wonder if our soul has suffered a concussion. And just when we think we’re good to go, the not-so-pleasant-but-necessary side effects of rebirth come falling down on us and we wonder if we’ll drown.

But then, just like April started a loving clean-up effort for her baby boy, our Father does the same for us.  He cleans us up, understands that we’re a little dazed and probably have a headache, and encourages us to stand up.  Just like April provides shelter and nourishment for her calf, we are able to stand in the shelter of God’s strength and steadfastness, knowing that He’ll give us what we need this day.

The alternative to rebirth?  I think it’s death.  It’s staying in the womb of “what if” and “if only.”  It’s nice and warm in there, but you’ll outgrow it.  The womb is familiar, while the outside world is a little on the scary side.  But, we’re not meant to stay where the safety lies.  We’re meant for the rebirth.  We’re meant for the messy.

In the Middle

Today is the Saturday after Good Friday and the day before Easter.  It’s a kind of “not yet” place on the Christian calendar.  We don’t commemorate the death of Jesus today and we don’t celebrate His rising either.  Today is the “in-between” day.

I feel like my life is a little like that these days…like I’m somewhere in between the death and the rising.  I’m not who I used to be, but I’m not who I’m meant to be either. Seems I’m ever searching for the right thing to do and the correct path to take.  It’s as if I’ve walked into a spider’s web of doubt and uncertainty.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to pick all of it off.  For all of my frantic activity, I don’t seem to be going anywhere.

I know that I belong to Him.  There’s truly no doubt on that topic. I know that I am securely held in His love and grace.  And yet, I have this heavy sense that I’m not really living…that I haven’t really, whole-heartedly risen to the calling He has on my life.

That calling is the same one each of us has as Christians:  the call to live as a new creation…to put off the old and put on the new.  I have a hard time with that part.  I wish I didn’t.  I know people who seem to fully embrace all that salvation in Jesus offers.  They live unencumbered by their pasts and see a future full of promise.  They don’t seem to doubt that when Jesus says, “Come to me,” He’s talking to them.

I think the key in being set free lies in where my mind resides.

What am I thinking about?  What am I believing about myself and about Jesus?  The Bible teaches us in Philippians 4 to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  Pretty sure I don’t spend enough time in those categories.  Thinking that if I did, the web would dissolve somehow or at least be less sticky.

Maybe that’s what I’ll write about on this blog.  Maybe in writing about life and the many shades of God’s mercy and grace I experience, I’ll begin to unweave the spider web that holds me captive from time to time.  Jesus never has struck me as someone who applauds captivity.  After all, the one He sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).