Monday, June 22, 2020

Thank you, Coach.

Cate was only three years old the first time she told her Daddy and I that she really (really really) wanted to play softball.  Her dad stayed on the lookout for teams. And even though she played soccer for a few years, and swam competitively as soon as she was old enough, it wasn't until she was 7 that we found a softball program for her to try.

Her little Firestorm team with the Paradise Valley, Arizona Softball league was purely delightful to watch. The parents had fun in the stands. The coaches showed respect and admiration for their young players and instilled great sportsmanship along with fundamental basics of the sport. We loved every minute.

After several seasons (both Fall and Spring ball) with the same coaches and team, we moved to Mississippi. By then, Cate was 9 and her passion for the sport had only grown. She opted to try a tournament team and see if she enjoyed the more intense level of play. 

Of course she did.

She has played catcher, pitcher, first base, any where her team needs her really. She can hit the ball like crazy at bat. And she smiles from ear to ear the entire time. The entire time that is except when someone is trying to steal to home....and then her face is fierce.

Getting to start at catcher for her school's high school team while in 7th grade was a highlight of our years in Mississippi. Those girls poured into her and she gave that team her very best. It was beautiful to watch.

Dad researched, studied, and even drove around looking for the area softball fields so he could get a sense of the teams before we moved to Delaware last summer. And man, Cate has landed on a great team. I can honestly say that the young women playing as the Brandywine Blast are the most supportive young people I believe I have had the privilege of meeting. Their support echoes throughout practices, throughout games, and throughout the week via text, phone calls, social media.

Covid-19 has cost them a lot of playing time this Spring. They are softly returning to the field with social distancing precautions, coaches wearing masks, rules about fist-bumps and high-fives....but they are returning. 

Saturday we had to opportunity to play a game (were supposed to play two but the second was rained out.). The Blast gained an early 2-0 lead but the Lions roared back if you will and soon we were down 3-2. Cate was on the mound at pitcher and I was quickly becoming re-acquainted with the complicated emotions of being the pitcher's mom: beaming with pride, attempting to use my mind-powers to help her hit the strike zone, and willing myself NOT to call her baby (Full disclosure: This was only marginally successful as after two different particularly hard calls, I may or may not have yelled, "Shake it off, Baby. You've got this." Sigh.).

The Blast ended up winning 15-3. My girl did not need my mind powers.

We left the field soaked through from the rain that blew in, but elated to be back playing and eager for the next opportunity.

But yesterday -- barely 24 hours after the game -- we received word that one of Cate's coaches died suddenly while on an early morning run. 

We are heart-broken. Just absolutely heart-broken. And though I am so new to this group and don't know the families as much as I would had this been a typical softball season, my heart so overflows with gratitude for these men who give of their time and energy to coach my daughter.

Coaches carry the power to build up, the power to teach, the power to grow a passion -- or squelch it. And though we have had fabulous coaches in our softball tenure (only really one that briefly made my blood pressure rise....), this group -- Coach Garrett, Coach Mike, and Coach Jeff -- are truly exceptional.

Coach Jeff was the quietest of these three. But his guidance no less important. His quiet instruction during practice will create a void. His steadfast voice behind first base will be hard to replace. And most importantly watching the evident pride on his face when his daughter took to the field will be irreplaceable. My heart hurts.

Thank you Coach, for your willingness to serve, encourage, mold our young player. Thank you for the time you took to pour into Cate's life. Thank you for using your life to enrich others.

You made an impact on these young lives. You made an impact on the parents. You are already missed.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Love your neighbor. For the love of God.

" 'Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' [Jesus] said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How do you read it?' And he answered 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.'  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ' And who is my neighbor?' " Luke 10:25-29 (ESV)

Last night I woke up in the wee hours and checked my phone (I have terrible sleep habits, I know.). There was a message from a former neighbor in Arizona with a question about our house there and the alarm code. He needed to help the current owners. It was good to hear from James and as I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, I thought about his sweet family and how our little girls learned to ride their bikes on that cul-de-sac.

My girls and I have spent some of our time during this stay-at-home season running the neighborhood behind our house. Although we are still newcomers here, I feel like we have gained some insight into our neighbors. We know, for instance, who has seniors graduating this month from the signs in the yards. We know who has dogs and how many. We know who is working on landscaping projects, pool builds, and who has the cutest pillows on their front porch. And if these new neighbors have looked out their windows at all, they know exactly how many times I can pass their home before my legs slow to barely a crawl. 

I don't yet really know my neighbors here. So the admonition to love them as I love myself seems a bit challenging but also, perhaps because I don't know them, it doesn't seem impossible either.

I knew my neighbors in Mississippi a bit more. We didn't talk often, but when we did it was pleasant and prior to learning we would be moving, I looked forward to getting to know all of them more. 

Except perhaps on Saturday mornings.

Our direct next-door neighbor's garage was on the master bedroom side of our house. And apparently Saturday mornings were his ideal time to test the engine of his sports car. I honestly am not sure exactly what was happening over there except that earlier than I wanted to be awake on Saturday, the revving noises from his garage would rattle the walls in our bedroom. The whole love your neighbor thing might have felt like a bit much in those waking hours.

I am making light, but in all seriousness, I have had these verses on my mind all week. As the world re-opens and we all attempt to resume some normalcy, I have been astounded at the outrage over wearing masks in public. Astounded at the sheer volume of people who flat-out refuse because they say their rights are being violated in the asking. I can't even.

Truly, is there a better way right now to love our neighbors? Wearing the mask protects us from unknowingly spreading a virus that you might be strong enough to fight but you are preventing the spread of your germs to those who might not be as strong. You are preventing the spread to vulnerable my sons. And your refusal, while certainly within your "rights," will force my family -- and so many others like us --  to have to continue staying home.

The form of the word "love" used in this verse is agape (ἀγάπη). Agape is an unconditional love, a selfless one. We are to love God with our heart, soul, and mind in a selfless manner. In other words, with no conditions, with no reservations. And wait. We are also supposed to love our neighbor -- to agape our neighbor -- with the same selfless love. Oh wow. 
And if I had not watched the news once this week, I would spend a couple of paragraphs encouraging you to selflessly wear your masks (really, I need you to). And I would say Amen, and be done with that. But.

But apparently, we live in a country where asking someone to put their dog on a leash, results in a 9-1-1 call using skin color as a bully tactic. Not exactly love of neighbor there.

And then the video of George Floyd. The heart-wrenching video of George Floyd has made even that incident in Central Park look blasé.

My heart breaks.

"Love your neighbor as yourself." Love your neighbor. Love.

And I realize how ridiculous it is to ask people to wear a mask -- to personally inconvenience themselves -- in order to think of others first, when, apparently, we can't recognize the rights of anyone beyond ourselves, especially not anyone who looks different than the reflection we see in the mirror. We can't recognize how our neighbor might possibly not be a mirror-image of our own face. How is it possible that in 2020 this is still happening? 

The lawyer talking to Jesus wanted clarification of who exactly his neighbor was. In reply, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. (Read Luke 10.) See, the Samaritans weren't a people the lawyer would have recognized as a mirror-image reflection of himself. Jesus knew we needed point-blank admonitions to love those who aren't exactly like us. 

Jesus told us to love our neighbors. He equated the love of our neighbors with love of God.

And it is exactly for the love of God -- and all things godly and good -- that I feel the need to shout that it is time for my fellow white people to stand up and scream that enough is enough. We need to join hands with our friends of color, and with our neighbors of color, and, for the love, with strangers of color, and assure them we stand with them against the horror of what happened to George Floyd. We stand with them in demanding justice, as well as in committing to end the violence. We stand with them. We kneel with them.

We need to love our neighbors.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The power of friendships. The gift of time.

Birthdays were a big deal in our house growing up. My Mom would go all out to make us feel special. So on my 10th birthday, when she told me we needed more ice and asked me to ride my bike to my Mama Clara's house to pick some up. I just hopped on my bike and went. Maybe I pondered the strangeness of the request on my ride but I am fairly certain I just did as I was told understanding that special days required unique requests.

I returned home to a backyard full of my closest friends shouting "Surprise!!" I don't even have to work hard to remember the absolute joy I felt that day (and it was a long long time ago.).

My 10th birthday. You are welcome.

Birthdays are a big deal.

Celebrating the triplets' and Little Red's birthdays has been my absolute favorite thing to do since...oh 1998! :) The triplets' first birthday was a celebration of successfully making it through sleepless nights, endless diapers, infinite feedings. We invited everyone in Chicago who had had a hand in getting them to their first birthday -- NICU nurses, doctors, physical and occupational therapists. We celebrated! And with that first party, I knew what my Mom so obviously knew, there is nothing better than honoring the life of those we love. Nothing better.

When I turned 49, Claire invited some of my circle of friends over for cake and ice cream. "Mom," she said, "I have learned in college that birthdays should have your people with you!"

For my 50th my family threw me a party and I got to hug and be hugged by friends I have known for years and years (and some I had only known since returning to MS).

Last year my birthday was about college graduates, moving to Delaware, packing boxes. My sweet family celebrated me well even in the midst of all that chaos but it was a season of good-byes with friends, not celebrations.

And this year, well, this year is like none other, right? And yet, my entire crew is home and we had a favorite meal gathered together and that was so beautiful and enough, really. It was wonderful.

But my friend Tracy had sent me a text earlier in the week that my Tupelo girls wanted to at least say a quick happy birthday that night. We have been trying in this season of staying home, to be intentional in a monthly Zoom call amongst the four of us. It has been a lifeline and so it made me smile that Tracy would organize a quick extra call this month for my birthday.

I went to my little room where I go when I Zoom with Teri, Tracy, and Neece, and opened my computer. As I hit the log in button the screen flickered strangely and then all these faces were there. And I mean all these faces -- way more than four! 25 faces from my life in Minnesota, Arizona, and Mississippi were on the screen in front of me! Faces that are scattered from coast to coast. Some faces that I haven't been able to see in years! And yet here they were, all there together.

And I knew immediately my girl who is so like me, and who loves to see her friends, had organized this gift that felt bigger than I can put into words.

If you are on a Zoom with 25 faces and your eyes are filled with tears, you won't be able to make out the little faces to even know who everyone is at first. Consider that a warning.

I legitimately couldn't take it all in. It was perhaps the most beautiful gift I could possibly receive that these took time away from their own families, away from their own schedules, to sit and smile, and laugh and reminisce. My girlfriends one by one shared how they knew me, how we met, how our paths crossed.

And suddenly, all the moving, all the figuring out how to plant roots in various places, all the hard good-byes and all the equally hard hellos, didn't feel so hard. And in a season where I am new -- again -- and am at home unable to plant social roots, this was exactly what I needed to remember.

Thank you, Claire -- oh it is fun to have an adult daughter! And oh my goodness, thank you Deb, Karen, Lisa, Robin. Thank you Stefanie, Orly, Avery, Ginny and Susie. Thank you Mary Alice, Heather, Brooke, Markietha, and Shelly. Thank you Carolyn, Teri, Rosemary, Neece (she is in the 10 year old's party pic too!), and Cindy. Thank you Debra, Tracy, LuEllen, Shannon, and Paula (I have tried to go in order of my screen pic!). Your friendships mean more to me than I can express. I love you all.

I know blessed is often reduced to a hashtag meme. But it is still a word I adore. It is still a word that evokes my gratitude. And it is definitely still a word that describes exactly how I feel after this absolutely beautiful virtual party!

Carol - The Blessings Counter