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Monday, July 4, 2016

On Losing & Loving (and Little League, of course)

Well, it's summer and that means it's Little League All-Star baseball season, but I haven't written much about it yet. It's the most fun to write about this season when it's about wins and comebacks. I love me some stories about resilience and teamwork. And if I can mention a double play or a home run? GET ME TO THE KEYBOARD.

In the best of games all of those things can happen. And we've had some games like that so far this summer. But in the very same game errors and strike outs can happen. Dropped fly balls and missed throws can happen. Sometimes, a crushing loss in extra innings happens. Sometimes we find ourselves on the other side of cheering and fist pumps and victorious dog piles. Sometimes the climb for that big ol' championship banner becomes awfully steep.

And sometimes the mama/writer watches it play out and thinks on it and also happens to listen to a sermon at church on 1 Corinthians 13 the next day. And she realizes that the little things in life with her children that she wants to write about shouldn't only be the happy, triumphant moments. She realizes that sometimes love and life and parenthood get all mixed up with sadness and loss and defeat. And she thinks that those disappointing moments are as worthy of the words as all of the other moments are.

So, then she decides that the losing of a Little League baseball game in Virginia in 2016 and the Apostle Paul's perfect words about love to the people of Corinth in about 57 A.D. can be mashed up in a blog post all at the same time. I mean, really who doesn't?

So, here's what happens sometimes in Little League baseball. Sometimes there's a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the 6th for your guys and everybody's feeling like the team is about to be 3 and 0 in the tournament. Except everybody knows that this is baseball. And in this game, it ain't over 'til it's over. Because just like that, there can be a 3 run homer to tie it by the other guys. And then you've got some extra innings. And you and all the other mamas and daddies know that all of those boys on your team have practiced so hard and you love their sweet little faces and their grim determination so much, so you believe they can pull it off with all your heart.

Love believes all things. Love never gives up.

Suddenly, the other guys have a runner on 3rd and the ball is hit with a force that seems to your mama eye like a cannon right at your kid. And you want to write that your kid made a sick, ESPN-worthy play and threw it from his knees to get the out because you're a writer and you love it when the drama in the real world matches the drama in your head. But you can't. 'Cause he didn't. He wasn't able to make the play and the runner on 3rd crosses home plate for the run. So sometimes you lose 7-6 and you don't see the victorious leap into the air. You see something wholly the opposite.

The game was over and I stared out at that #6 position on the field. Realizing that the opponent was safe at 1st already and he wouldn't make the play, my boy smacked the ball to the ground. He ripped off his cap and slapped it against his hip. He sank to his knees and lay his forehead on the ground and I stared at his defeated, crumpled little body. The cheers from the other team floated above him like a cloud. I willed him with all my heart to pull it together.

Love is patient. Love is kind. 

We don't ask for perfection, but we do ask for good sportsmanship. And he isn't the type to cry or whine or throw things on the ball field often. But as I continued to watch, staring lasers into him from behind the fence, I really wasn't mad. I wasn't embarrassed. I wasn't disappointed. I just wanted him to rise up. I knew he felt like he had let his team down. "You can do it, kiddo. Get to the baseline, bud. Please, move your little feet toward your team. Please shuffle through the handshakes." And he did. The last one in line. Wiping his eyes, pulling his hat low. He shook the hands and walked the walk. He met his team in the huddle. And I stared at his hunched shoulders.

Love always hopes. It always trusts.

He made his way through the crowd of blessedly gracious parents. They, one by one, told him to keep his head up. They shouted his number, calling out, "Good game, 8!" He nodded at a few and I bit my tongue. The "parent" in me wanted to grab his arm and urge him to say thank you, but the "mama" in me wanted to wrap my arm around him like a secret service agent and hustle him out. As he rounded the corner with the refuge of his dad's truck in his sight a kind soul from the other team yelled out, "Hey, short! You're a heckuva player, kid." Good manners did not prevail. He kept his head down and held tight to that bat bag, rolling it through the gravel. He clearly wanted to get out of that park because he believes "There's no crying in baseball."

I wanted to hug that sweet man. I wanted to yell out to my boy, "Look that gentleman in the eye, Son. Say thank you." Instead, I let him go and I looked at the stranger with a shrug and said, "I'm so sorry. That is so nice of you. He just can't muster it now, but thank you." He nodded that he understood completely, "He's a player, ma'am. That's alright."

Love is not easily angered. It does not keep record of wrongs.

He made his way to his dad's truck and dropped his bag. He found a spot, sat up against the tire and folded his arms around his bent knees. He pulled the brim of his hat down low over his eyes to hide his tears. I followed not far behind.

Before I found my way to him my mama bear tendencies rose up as I heard one of my older boys mumble something behind me. I don't know what he said. It could have been something wonderful and encouraging, but I was quick to protect my littlest one from any instruction or "should haves" from his big brothers. So, I must admit, that I whipped around and pointed my finger at them both daring them to come an inch closer. "NOT.ONE.WORD. will you say to your little brother. Not now. DO.NOT.SAY.A.WORD. or I will rip someone's head off."

Ahem. I'm not proud of myself. It's just well, hell hath no fury. And also:

Love always protects.

I found my way to him. All the phrases, all the verses, all the encouragement like pin balls bouncing through my head. I must say something. I must remind him of all the good plays he made and that he mustn't focus on one play. I must remind him to keep his head up. I must remind him that baseball is just a game. That this is how baseball can be. I must remind him to be gracious in defeat. I must remind him that disappointment makes us stronger. I must remind him to get 'em next time. But ultimately, I decided differently.

Nope. I mustn't.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy, but don't love, I am nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 

Love doesn't force itself on others.

I must bite my lip and decide that motherly advice and admonitions have a time and a place and this is neither. I must simply crouch down between the cars in the graveled parking lot. There are no other eyes or ears on us. I must refrain from being his teacher, his coach, his mentor, his preacher. In the safe haven of a secluded spot behind his daddy's truck I must realize that some rules are meant to be broken and some lessons can wait. As the blessedly cool evening breeze blows through the sweaty red curls sticking out from beneath his cap, I must simply lay my hand on his heaving shoulder. I must press my lips to the top of the dirty baseball cap and whisper, "I love you, buddy. I'm so sorry." In some cases, away from the diamond, in the quiet presence of only his mama, it's quite alright if there is crying in baseball.

Later there will be a hot shower and a giant burrito from Chipotle and kisses from his puppy dog. The freckled face will ask when the next game is and he will smile again.

Because what the Apostle Paul wrote thousands of years ago to a city far away is the absolute truth today in my little corner of the world

Love never fails. 

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