When our youngest was in Kindergarten, the school nurse sent home a note suggesting we have his eyes checked. He had not done well on the school’s vision exam.
We did not rush him to the optometrist.
In our defense, he seemed to see just fine. And this would be the same nurse who called about every week or two, with the giggles, to tell us that J.P. was in her office, again, with an ice pack on his head because he’d smacked it on something, again.
When we did make an appointment shortly before he began first grade, we hung our heads in the Parents’ Hall of Shame.
In the claims world we use the word deconditioned as something of a neutral word to describe the occasional physical traits of an injured person who is, well, deconditioned.
A few weeks ago it was my deconditioned carcass that I dragged up the hill for an invigorating walk outside our vacation rental in the western South Dakota pines a few weeks ago. The walk hadn’t done me in, but the not-like-mine bed had. So when JP wanted to get up early for a bike ride, I took him up on it. By the time early came, I’d already been awake a couple of hours.
We grunted into the morning quiet as we hoisted two bikes off the garage ceiling and then we were off. JP quickly left me behind as he tore up the hill, nearly reaching the crest before he had to dismount and walk the last few feet. (Though he’ll say it was to wait for me.) And as for me, I nearly made it to the base of the hill before I climbed off and pushed the bike and my deconditioned self to the top to meet him.
We chatted in the cool of the day, punctuated with my labored wheezes.
Did you ever go out with anybody before Dad?
Was he an athlete?
Was he an athlete?
What was he?
And you picked Dad?
Yep. Glad I did. Aren’t you?
How come you’re the youngest in your family but you have the oldest kid?
Dunno. Worked out that way.
But you weren’t the first to get married.
How come everybody in your family was so old when they had kids?
Guess none of us were in a hurry.
Did Grandma and Grandpa make you wait that long?
We crested the hill, me gasping, him interrogating. And it was all downhill from there.
We remounted the bikes, held on and let go.
Wind and gravity stretched my cheeks back to my ears making my eyes water while the air rushed through my hair. I resisted squeezing the brakes even as I heard his exhilarated Woo hoo! far ahead of me on the road.
Half a mile later, we coasted back up the last tiny slope to the house.
At the top, JP shook his head.
Going up that hill was awful, Mom. But that ride down?
Totally worth it.
Photo: The hill, in the woods near Deadwood, SD. (Funny, I remember it running straight up.)
“Didn’t you play any sports, Mom?” JP stood ankle deep in the clover across the yard and released the ball again toward my head.
“Nope.” I stuck out my gloved hand and nabbed it, thankfully without any awkward dance steps to retrieve it before I let it sail through the kitchen window. “Not a single one.”
He already knows how I established once and for all that height and ability are not doled out in equal portions, the single time I reported for basketball practice in my high school gym. We concluded that day that it would be best for everyone that I continued to keep my talents hidden.
“Not even softball? You could play first base you know,” he laughed, as I stretched to pluck another ball out of the air and narrowly avoided a face-first confrontation with the earth.
He was kind, calling out “My bad!” whenever I would miss and have to jog to collect an errant ball, opting not to make all the jokes that might have come quite easily.
And he was concerned, cautioning me to “Throw it over the top, Mom, or you’re going to have to get the Tommy John’s!” I’m sure that as soon as he turned his back to chase down the wild curve I didn’t mean to throw that he was really muttering, “You throw like a girl.”
He soon tired of my girl throwing and went to work on his pitching instead. We tried out his new iPod app to clock the speed of his pitch. When he ribbed me over my slow reflexes in tapping the screen, I asked him how that MJ water was working out for him.
We’d been talking about the MJ water for a while at our house, recalling the scene in Space Jam where Bugs Bunny slapped a “Michael’s Secret Stuff” label on a water bottle and shared it with his struggling team, hoping that if they believed that bottle contained the stuff that made Michael Jordan great, then they would play like they too were great.
It worked. At least on the screen.
And we wondered if the same was true of the titanium necklaces made popular by MLB players. Is there really a therapeutic quality to them that restores battered muscles and improves performance? Or does the belief that they do so inspire the athlete to push through pain and resistance and perform better on their own?
Is it just an pricey version of MJ water?
Look good, feel good?
We’re still running tests.
Somewhere past my bedtime the other night I went to pick up JP from the ballfield. He and a friend wandered aimlessly around the grounds and I wondered if I’d somehow tripped into that invisibility cloak again. Turned out his friend had parted with his cell phone sometime during the evening and they were on the hunt.
At my house we’ve made an art form of phone loss and destruction. We know how to launder them in the permanent press cycle, lose them, run over them, lose them, fall on them, lose them, drop them, and lose them like nobody’s business. We’ve made a lifetime deal with the devil in our wireless service contract.
So like any compassionate parent (who wants to go to bed) would do, I parked the car and started looking with them.
They checked the men’s room. The concession stand. The press box. The grass.
We checked lots of grass.
I pointed to the bleachers, and they assured me that they had already looked. I hoped they were right. I crouched and glanced in from a safe distance, and shuddered. Seeing the piles of spit-soaked seeds on top of spit-covered tar made my mouth water in that I’m-going-to-vomit-on-this-sea-of-saliva way and I jumped back.
Despair started its slow creep as we ran out of places to look. The two began a long walk to the water tower a full football field away as I made one more scan in the blue glow of the flood lights on the lawn outside the stadium.
Show us the phone, God. Do this thing. Please.
Show us the phone.
I took a few more steps, wondering aloud how much longer I should allow them to look before I took the young man home to face his own parents. As I debated, the sod lit up in front of me, a beautiful LCD glow winking from between blades of grass.
I bent over to pick up the phone, buzzing wildly in its muted vibrate mode as JP dialed from across the field one last time. I stretched the phone high in the air, waving the digital glow for the boys to see.
As tired and relieved bodies bundled into the car to go home, they asked how I found it. I told them I asked God to show it to us. And it looked like He did.
When it was back to just the two of us in the car, JP looked sideways at me and said, “Really? You prayed about it?”
“Sure,” I said. “God cares about stuff like that.”
He thought awhile, and reached his conclusion. “Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe it wasn’t God.”
I wondered, did he think I was drinking the spiritual MJ water? That praying was like a titanium necklace? Since I prayed and we saw a good outcome I’d mistakenly associated the two?
I smiled, strangely comfortable that I didn’t have to convince him of anything he wasn’t quite ready to buy. “Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t,” I told him. “But even if He didn’t, He could do it. He could if He wanted to, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
And I remember. Faith is never a given. It doesn’t come naturally, and often not easy. As much as sometimes I just want them to take my word for it, I know that even kids will have to pounce on the mat and wrestle down doubt and belief too. And when they do, that faith they claim will become truly theirs to hold.
Meanwhile, it seems I set off to quietly grappling anew over the “if He wanted to” part.
Photo: JP at pitching practice in the back yard
I stole down the steps before dawn, crept through the black and reached to the floor to nudge awake the mass of teenager hidden in the blankets. The boys prefer the cool dark of the basement to their own beds upstairs for a good night’s sleep.
“Time to go to work,” I whispered, hoping the other set of slow heaving shoulders wouldn’t stir. He still had a few hours of rest while his brother and I set off for storm work. With two-stories on the schedule, I thought it wise to bring along some extra muscle.
Through the groan, I thought I could make out the words, “I don’t want to do this.”
Yeah, I’m not sure I do either.
But we did anyway.
After a quick breakfast on the run, we bounced down the highway. His head lolled to one side, then the other, as heavy sounds of his sleep sang harmony to the engine’s hum. Karen, as we called the GPS, broke in now and again to berate me for transgressing her route.
I reached to squish a mosquito on the side glass and looked at my boy — this man — his 6’7″ frame folded into the passenger space beside me. I hoped my thoughts weren’t so loud as to wake him. His legs, now longer than mine, crushed into the dash and I reminded myself, You’re not the Lanky Dude around here anymore.
I smiled at the scruff poking out of his chin that he doesn’t feel like shaving now that it’s vacation, and my memory trembled with the reverberations of his man-voice bass tones.
Just the day before, his brother nearly looked me in the eye and demanded a height comparison on the spot right there in the grocery aisle. Sure enough, he’s climbing too, the top of his head now at my eye level.
How long before I’m reaching up to straighten his neck tie before school on a game day or a concert too?
They’ve turned into men on me.
The bank sign had flickered 92 degrees as we drove through that sleepy Iowa town. He stood on the ground, as was his job, sweat rolling off his cheeks in the hot stillness and watched his mom crawl and scrape around on a roof that was just a little steeper than I prefer to work.
I marked with chalk and ran my tape, calling out numbers for him to record. Then I felt my foot slip from its place. A footwear malfunction, I called it. The soles just didn’t hold against the loose asphalt granules and I went skidding down the slope.
As I caught hold of a providently placed pipe vent and stopped the slide, I also caught his eye, peeking through the languid green of the weeping willow where he’d sought cover from the baking sun.
Was I about to make him more of a man than he ought to be just yet?
I came down with a burned and bruised backside but wondering, had that vent been on the other slope instead, what I might have burned or bruised in my boy’s tender eyes and heart. For his body might belong to a man. But his insides aren’t ready for all that just yet.
We recovered, and moved on to the next. I’m pretty sure he kept a close eye on me after that, quiet but steady. But he might never admit it.
We drove home back into the early morning, our 700-some miles covered, telling stories and quoting movie lines and dissing each other’s taste in music. We talked smack to the voice that bossed us from the windshield, especially when she rerouted us to a low-maintenance dirt road that terrorized like us an old wooden roller coaster. We laughed and drank Mt. Dew and ate HoHos and Zingers as we recounted the highlights and lowlights of the day’s adventure, mom and son on the job.
I passed by them, sprawled out on the basement floor as I started my day again this morning. They grow bigger, stronger, wiser.
Strange, I suppose. But as I look long at these boys — these men – as I know them a little more every day, it becomes easier to believe that once they lived and grew inside this broken body.
It seems it should become more impossible with each new inch or shoe size or armpit hair.
But somehow, at the same time, it becomes most wonderfully, possibly, possible.
Photo: Outdoor Faucet by Charles Thompson, via Stock.Xchng
Win some, lose some.
So goes baseball.
The boys held their own against, well, a better team. They were only down 4-0 in the third inning while the last team to face this same opponent fell by 19 runs in the third.
But then came the fourth. Balls instead of strikes. Balls in the outfield. Balls in the infield. Pop flies missed. Ground balls passed. Balls thrown too far. Balls thrown too short. Balls thrown to the left or right of the baseman. Basemen nowhere near the base.
Not their finest moment.
Twelve runs later, they reached the welcome end to a long and painful inning.
And the end of the game, four innings short of regulation.
The young boy in the bleachers in front me, distracted by his own self for most of the game, popped up from his seat as folks started to leave.
“It’s over already?” A quick glance at the scoreboard told him all he needed to know about a game he’d mostly ignored. He paled a little. “Ohhh. The Mercy Rule.”
Ohhh. The Mercy Rule.
The Mercy Rule comes into play from time to time in sports that don’t have a game clock, stopping the game at the arbitrary point at which rulemakers have concluded that a team would have an insurmountable lead.
In our baseball league, that insurmountable lead is 15 runs.
Our boys know the Mercy Rule from both sides in their tournament play, whether the triumph of a 15 run lead or the humiliation of a 15 run deficit.
In either case, it is a chasm ruled too far to cross.
The Mercy Rule spares the languishing team.
It spares them when they come to a place where they clearly cannot win. But more than that, they cannot even get on with it and lose.
They cannot get out of the game.
But for the Mercy Rule, the thrashing would go on without end.
Oh, the Mercy Rule.
We know it ourselves, don’t we?
The enemy holds an insurmountable lead. His fills his scorecard front and back in his incriminating scrawl.
Sins and transgressions.
Failings and guilt.
Debt that could never be paid.
The game goes on and on and on. Inning after endless inning.
Until . . .
. . . the Mercy Rule.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
In His great mercy.
Four of my favorite words in all the world when they string together like that.
The Mercy Rule underscores everything He does for us.
Resurrection from dead.
All because of the Mercy Rule.
Nice to have in baseball — lost without it for all eternity.
:: ::: ::
Yesterday I saw a store clerk stocking bag after bag of sunflower seeds on an end cap and realized that between the wind, the sun and now sunflower seeds, it’s just about baseball season. Thought it might be a nice time for this one from the archives.
Saturday afternoon when the men paraded out the door, a beautiful sound rose up from the hush they left behind: January thaw.
I heard snow settle, water trickle . . . and the clomp clomp clomp of three pairs of feet on my roof.
This is what kids in South Dakota do for fun.
Contrasting Samson’s strength-for-myself with Jesus’ willingness to muscle under us for our gain reminded me of a post from the archives. Meanwhile, we’re off to see our last Minnesota Twins game in the Metrodome. Enjoy the weekend. Go Twins!
The Lord’s Supper is not funny.
Yet, from time to time when I hear said that Jesus’ body was broken, I confess I force back a snicker. I don’t want to laugh. I try not to do it very loud. And I try to get over it really fast.
It’s embarrassing and offensive to be found laughing about such a somber thing.
I’ve learned that not a lot of people appreciate snickering during Communion.
And they really hate snort laughing.