Saturday, June 28, 2014

Top Draft Picks

I would like to meet the Mad Ant. You probably never heard of Ron Howard, unless you happen to live in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That’s where Mr. Howard plays for a second-tier league of professional basketball players on a team known as the Mad Ants. (L. Jenkins, SI 4.28.14) The National Basketball Association (“NBA”) has a Development League (“D League”) where “really good but not quite good enough” basketball players learn the professional game, hoping to one day be noticed by the NBA.  Mr. Howard has been called up a to the NBA a bit, but mostly he has spent his young working life as a D League Mad Ant.   He and his wife and children live at Concordia Theological Seminary and run summer camps, lead toy drives at Christmas, volunteer at a food bank and mentor kids.  All while spending the basketball season playing NBA-level basketball as an Ant.

We have become nearly numb to the numbers.  Young men in their late teens or early twenties being chosen by a professional basketball team to begin a life’s work that will earn them millions of dollars before they are 35 years old. The numbers are so big that to most of the top draft picks it seems like they are being paid with Monopoly money as they take it and spend lavishly on houses and cars and lots of life’s frills and thrills.  And for a few young men, twenty to thirty of them in any given year, life as a top draft pick will be grand. Unless they get injured.  Unless they have a bad attitude toward practice. Unless…unless.  And for a very, very few, less than a dozen in a dozen years, life will be like living a dream, men with names like Jordan, Dr. J, Wilt the Stilt, Kareem, Lebron, Kobe.  But for many, their young careers end with them forgotten and alone.

When you are a Mad Ant and a Mad Ant’s wife, as is Reesha Howard, you can dream of being a top draft pick, but you might become Mr. and Mrs. Mad Ant.  What do you pray for when you are married with children and living the life of a Mad Ant? “We used to pray for Ron to make it to the NBA, but now I realize that’ so foolish,” Mrs. Mad Ant explains.  “We just thank God for allowing him to do what he loves. I never wanted to be one of those Basketball Wives anyway.  We’ve gotten so much more out of being here. We’ve gotten a real home.”

Ah, to learn the value of winning life’s bigger prizes.  It is good to learn this early.  You see, in life’s draft, the real winners are people like the Howards, Ants with a real home.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Zoom Out Living

A group of us made our way to a destination golf course.  This type of golf course is defined by at least four things: first, it will be expensive; very expensive; second, it will be visually intimidating; third, it will be very hard for an amateur to play well; and fourth, it will have stunning views. The first three of those four defining features leads to a common result.  The group gets to the end of the round and they gather round with long faces and empty wallets to share their many tales of woe. Each play finds as many ways as possible to say “that was fun” when what they really mean is “that was stupid.”

That’s what happened to us as well. But then, as we sitting outside telling our tales of woe, I looked up from the scorecard full of scary numbers and  took a panoramic view of the property. It was beautiful, the way the sun was creating shadows and the brilliance of the architects became evident.  So I said, “this is a really beautiful piece of land”.  A few looked up and said, “yeah”, but mostly everyone just kept on describing how the course had reminded us how far we are from playing like the pros.

I wonder if this is what it is like in other recreational activities. When people are out fishing, do they get so focused on watching the fish line or bobber that they fail to ever stop to see the vast beauty of lake or the river? Do bikers and joggers get so focused on their time and effort that they never look around them to appreciate their surroundings? Or when someone is crocheting, does one need to zoom in so intently on the needle that one cannot appreciate the full effect of the piece being made?  What is your favorite hobby? In order to do it well do you focus so much on the task at hand that you cannot see the whole picture?

There is a feature on electronic devices that allows you to “zoom out” when looking at a picture on a screen. You can move the view of the image out so that you see the “wide-angle” view.  Instead of just seeing one little part of the image you can appreciate the complete picture.  We should spend more of life focusing on the full view, not focused so much on the minute task at hand, or the one little problem we are trying to solve. “Zoom out living” gives us the panoramic view of God’s blessings which we otherwise might never see.  This week, if you feel stuck in a rut or beaten by a problem, zoom out, look at the full picture of your life, and give thanks for the beauty.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What Water?

Later this morning I will be standing on a tee box looking at a green 120 yards away.  I will be playing a wily opponent in the second round of a single-elimination tournament.  Normally hitting the ball 120 yards is relatively easy, even for someone like me.  But, this particular hole I have been envisioning as a potential turning point in the match has one big hazard: a 50 yard long pond between the tee and the green.  I have been playing this course for over a decade, and yet every time I come to this hole I start to wonder if I should take “more club” so I can be sure to hit it over the water.  Over the course of time I have developed this little bit of self-talk as I approach the hole; “What water?”  As my sub-conscious brain tells me to strategize how to clear the water my conscious brain is telling myself, “what water? There’s nothing to fear!”

This is not just a problem for human beings.  I am reminded of the time I was training with a horse for a horse show competition. We were practicing on the concrete parking lot outside the coliseum where soon we, my horse and I, would enter and compete.  One of the event’s challenges was for me to ride the horse to the edge of a pool of water, get off and to lead the horse through it. So, my “trainers” had put a blue tarp down in the parking lot to simulate the water. As I rode the horse toward the simulated water the horse reared up and threw me off its back and onto my backside on the concrete. After which  I was told how to keep the horse’s attention on something other than the water. Thanks for the timely advice!

What reminded me of these stories of dealing with our fears was a story I read about a legally blind pole vaulter, Charlotte Brown of Emory, Texas. (SI 5.26.14)  She is unable to distinguish color or to judge distance, so in order to perform her feat she counts her steps up to the launching points and she relies on technology to tell her if she is near the box into which she needs to insert the pole. She recently launched herself 11 feet into the air. How? “I’m not scared, because I can’t see how high the bar is or how small the box is…I think our fears are  illusions, they’re not real. We just think they are.”  Like I said, “what water?”

Is there some fear you need to conquer this week?  Pray for vision which sees beyond the obstacle you fear. May God grant you the ability to see only the joy of victory.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Graduation Day Redux

You approach the south side of the building, using the door which invites you to “Enter Here.”  The lighting is low, but sufficient to reveal only one piece of furniture, a small square metal table. The gray of the table offsets nicely the table’s contents: 10,000 $100 bills. One million dollars.

You stare at the table and the dollar bills and you look for around for someone who will explain.  A voice comes over a loudspeaker. A calm sounding voice, surprisingly similar to the woman’s voice who announces on a GPS device in your car that you need to make a legal U-turn as soon as possible.  The voice says:

“Welcome.  You have been selected to participate in an experiment.  You have two choices. First, you may use proceed to exit through the north door. When you exit you will be 18 years old and in the precise same life situation as you were on your high school graduation day.  When you again reach your current age you can return here and retrieve the million dollars which will be for your own use.  Second, you can collect as many of the $100 bills as you would like and then turn around and exit the south door. When you exit you will be just in the same precise life situation as you were when you entered, except for the fact that you will have up to $1 million dollars, which money must be given away within the next 30 days.”

So, you stand there thinking, do I want to start my life over again from 18 knowing that one day I will have a million dollars? Or, do I want to be who I am right now with the opportunity to give away a million dollars right now?

Which choice to you make? Why?

Why does God rarely offer second chances?  Is it really better to give than to receive?  Is today the day your graduate from the school of life with one chance to start over?