“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8
Life is an amazing adventure and every single day brings forth endless possibilities in shaping us into the miracles that we are. If we wait too long to finally realize that, we just might discover the beauty we have been missing. Sometimes those lessons are learned early while others quite late in life, but the bottom line is simple. Learn all you can while you can when you can.
Take Jerry for instance. He grew up in rural Oklahoma, raised on rodeos, grilled hamburgers, and football, lots of it. He loved the game and was quite talented at it with all the God-given talent that he nurtured and fostered keeping two strong feet planted on the ground and never ever getting “too big for his britches,” as his mom would say as often as she could and as often as he needed to hear it.
However, his biggest fan was his father who realized from a very early age that being a sports fan required more than just casual dedication. Having a son who loved the game and worked hard at it made him more than proud. It made him devoted. He realized that no team wins it each and every year and this means there are ups and downs constantly. Sticking with his son and his teammates through thick and thin is exactly what being a fan is all about.
Struggling as they were to keep afloat financially in raising a family, Jerry’s family rejoiced when upon graduation from high school, he received a full, four-year football scholarship to the prestigious University of Oklahoma. Although things would still be tight, it was all right because they were used to hard sacrifices and loving returns. Their family was so close and yet as generous as they were industrious. Jerry’s teammates found another in his own father and the dedicated biggest fan was never a stranger, especially at home-sponsored games and even during the team’s long, protracted and grueling practices. All the coaches knew at least two things about Jerry: he was the most polite, respectful, and loyal member of the team, and he was close to his dad and never had to apologize for it. This father-son relationship actually gave spirit to the team and encouraged other families to work at unity and mutual love and support for their sons on the field.
In his senior year, getting ready to head out to the world to pursue his dream of being a Chemical Engineer in nearby Tulsa after graduation, the team made it to the playoffs. What an amazing time to be alive. The final year for many of his teammates to ever pick up the pigskin collegiately or professionally was coming to an end along with an array of wonderful and profound memories that would take them all into adulthood and to their places in the world. Practices were brutal in preparation for the big day. Of course, as the excitement mounted, there were two clearly and totally expected sights: Jerry would be at every practice and his dad would be in the stands quietly and majestically supporting his son and his team on the path to a prized victory.
As the days grew closer to the championship that was to be played in Dallas, the pressure was definitely at a frenetic level. The campus was buzzing and the student body stood squarely behind their team and the hopes for the future of the Senior Class poised to graduate just days after the game. But a week before the buses were to leave for Texas, shocking news reached the locker room. Jerry’s dad had died suddenly from a massive heart attack. The team was thrown into a heartbreak mode of existence and prayers poured in from seemingly everywhere. The coaches took up a special collection to help the family with funeral arrangements and a grieving family buried their loving father with six rather large and strapping pallbearers, among them, a forlorn, devastated, but very grateful son.
Life, as it usually does, went on, and the university community continued moving forward to thoughts of greatness in Dallas, although tempered by a severe loss, it was business as usual. However, there were two missing lights at the practice field. Jerry and his dad were painfully missing but a make-shift wreath made of football gear stood at the entrance of the locker room. Then it was time to pack and get ready for the journey south. The Head Coach was the last one in the sports complex having overseen the final preparation for the game, and just as he was ready to turn out the lights and close down, a shadow of a figure loomed at his opaque glass paned door. A slight knock ensued upon the large plate glass enclosed within the coach’s office door. It was Jerry, looking a little worn and obviously deeply affected by the loss of his mentor, paternal coach, and light of his life. Quickly the coach invited him in and pulled up a chair. After a few minutes of outreach and the expressions of hope and condolences, Jerry had one favor to ask.
“Hey, Coach. I never missed a practice these past four years except when my father died. Can I please start tomorrow in Dallas?”
As remarkable as such a request sounds, it was a moment of conflict for the coach who knew of Jerry’s dedication but also of his abilities. He was a good player but maybe not the kind of lineman who would start a championship, but what could he do? Something deep inside echoed the only answer he could give.
“Sure, Jerry! Bus leaves at 5:00 am.”
During that short night of sleep, the coach kept tossing and turning. He could envision starting this outstanding mountain of a man, he could see the coin toss, his team would have to receive, he heard the kickoff, the ball coming to Jerry and he fumbling the ball only for the opposing team to score on the first play of the game. Should he go back on his word? Should he risk the championship? Before he could even give any real thought to these burning questions, the alarm went off and it was time to start the wheels in motion. After having quickly showered and dressed, he and his wife arrived at the university sports complex about two hours before departure only to see a tall, excited, and anxious student waiting by the bus pacing about as if he had been there forever.
“You haven’t changed your mind, have you Coach?!,” came that familiar voice.
His deeply respected coach had only one thing to say: “No, Son. You’re in. Get on the bus.”
But even on the way down to Texas, the coach kept having flashbacks of his semi-contentious nightmares of losing the toss, fumbling the ball and losing the championship, but then again, as a man of his word, he stayed the course and remained resolute.
The sunrise could not have been more spectacular. The day was clear and sharp and the stadium was packed with wild enthusiastic voices with marching bands, the smell of popcorn, and the rush of adrenaline on both sides of the football field. Both teams made their way to their assigned sides while a colorful honor guard began the pledge of allegiance, the anthem, and special dedications and announcements were made over the booming speakers. Perhaps the two most anxious men in that whole stadium had to have been Jerry and his coach, but that was inconsequential now as the moment of truth finally arrived.
Jerry’s team lost the toss and the opposing team chose to kick. The starting gun was fired, the cheering rose to fever pitch, the ball sailed into that magnificent blue sky heading straight for Jerry. The coach found it altogether too much to watch. He turned his gaze downward as if to pick something up from the ground, squinching and scrunching as if he were preparing for a devastating blow; but the roar of the crowd from his side of the stadium told him everything he needed and wanted to know. Jerry had caught the ball, ran fifteen yards for the first down. With an immense spurt of synergy whirling around the team like a bolt of lightning, they left him in the game and within fifteen minutes they scored. And they kept on scoring even until the end and a championship for the books. Even the opposing team was in awe. So were both men.
After the traditional handshakes, presentation of trophies with a field teeming with bursts of wild joy and relief, the coach began to look for Jerry. He couldn’t find him among the “stars” of the game, the more notable names, or the favorites. Finally, he was found deep in the recesses of the locker room, with a uniform practically in shreds, covered in mud and probably some blood as well. And he was crying softly, this giant of a man on several meaningful levels.
The coach gently asked, “Hey man, what happened out there. That was awesome! I would never have imagined you had that in you.”
“Hey Coach, you know my father died, right?,” came the carefully uttered response.
“Of course, Jerry. We know how much you’ve hurt, but we are hurting too, for you and your family,” continued the wise teacher.
Jerry slowly lifted his head, wiped away the tears mixed with grime and blood and then uttered effortlessly and profoundly, “What you didn’t know was that my father was blind, and this was the first time he got to see me play.”
Ours is a magnificent life filled with the stuff of legends, sagas, and epics being written all around us, every day. We simply cannot afford to miss a moment to cry, to forgive, to sing out loud in praise of what the Lord Jesus has done for us even in the most dark and desolate of moments because it is precisely in these human passages of time and space that we come to discover the beauty that has made us His sons and daughters whom He loves eternally.
Your Father sees you. Always has. Always will.
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“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Matthew 6:6