Friday, December 17, 2010

2010 Christmas letter - 'The Year of the Ironman'

I'll never forget when Eric announced to our kids around this time last year that he was going to do the Louisville Ironman in August, 2010. You would have thought he had just announced we were all leaving on the next plane out of town for Disney World. They were ecstatic. Their reaction, I'll have to say, was much more supportive than the reaction going on inside of myself. I had two very different trains of thought running through my head. On the one hand, I kept seeing it from 'my' point of view--'my' view couldn't get passed the fact that all of his training would impose on 'my' free time. I would have to pick up the slack at home so he could put in the hours of training. 'My' view believed that it was going to affect our time together in a negative way. How would we ever have time together as a family if he was always biking, running or swimming? 'My' point of view wondered how he could keep God and his relationship with Him #1 if he was doing all these extra hours of training. Thankfully, I didn't verbalize these reservations, but I definitely wasn't doing cartwheels over this decision like my kids were.

On the other hand, I had a completely different line of thought going on in my head and I believe this other view truly kept my mouth shut from voicing all the negativity warring inside of me. This other response had nothing to do with me and everything to do with God and His kindness. God knew I was going to need a little help in this area. He knew I needed to 'see' this working for someone else. Thus, He prepared my heart beforehand by bringing a friend into my life who's husband had done several Ironman races. She was very much a mentor (and still is) and I had been spending time with her on a regular basis. Her commitment to her husband and commitment to his leadership in their marriage prepared me to respond appropriately. Because her husband had done several Ironman races, I was able to see how it could actual be a positive thing and something that brings the family together. I am so thankful for such an example and thankful that God prepared my heart so that I could choose to be supportive of Eric and be on board with this goal.

I'll also never forget a few months later, sitting in the kitchen of these friends and learning for the first time the entry fee for the Ironman. Yep, Eric conveniently had kept this small piece of information to himself. My mouth fell open. I couldn't speak for several seconds. I was seriously in a state of shock. Are you kidding me? Let me get this straight...not only are you going to willingly subject your body to the worst pain and agony it will probably ever experience, but you are also going to pay someone a small fortune to do so? (I'm not going to divulge the amount; if you want to know the cost, go to the Ironman website!)

When Eric announced he was doing the Ironman to our kids, he explained he wouldn't be able to help coach their baseball teams because of the training commitment. I thought inside, 'whoa, they will not be okay with this--now it's getting personal.' Again, I was wrong. They were not sad in the least. It was like God had already given them the wisdom to know that this was a special thing that would take a little bit of sacrifice from each of us. As is so often the case, God was using our children's childlike, faithful responses to challenge and sanctify my own untrusting heart.

Thus, this is how 2010 began and why I call it 'The Year of the Ironman', because most of our year revolved around this central goal. Just as we are followers of Christ and we must run everything through the grid of keeping Him at the forefront of all we do, this goal required similar thinking. It was no small thing--it required a lot of intentional planning, hard work and discipline and everything we did had to be evaluated in light of keeping this goal out front.

An Ironman consists of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles. It is the triathlon of triathlons. It is a serious commitment. Thus, the first half of our year involved training, training and more training. Training doesn't happen without a plan. You have to pick a plan and fit it into your routine and be intentional about it. I relate it often to parenting. We must put in the hard hours of work in order to train our children and bring them up in the way that God would have them to go. It takes much intentionality. So does training for a race. During this time, Joshua, Wes and Jeremiah were playing baseball. When Eric wasn't biking, swimming or running, we spent our nights at the baseball field. If you'd like to read about our adventuresome baseball seasons, you may click on the following links:

With Spring, Comes Baseball

Unwrapping God's Gifts

Joshua's Season

Wes' Season

Jeremiah's Season

Ephesians 2:10 says 'we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.' When we surrender our lives to live for Jesus, we each become a masterpiece in the making. Each moment, each day, God puts a new stroke of color or shading on our painting. His strokes are deliberate and precise. He knows exactly what He is creating and He knows exactly when He is finished. In June of this year, God put the finishing touches on two beautiful masterpieces and called them home in all His glorious splendor. My grandmother, Mabel Winkler and Eric's grandmother, Margaret Polly passed away from this earth and on into the heavenly realm on June16 and June 27, respectively. These womens' lives reflected a love for God and their family. Please click on their names to read a tribute about each of their beautiful lives.

With July, came another turn of unexpected events. Eric had a bike wreck. Thankfully, he didn't break anything, but he received a mean down-to-the-bone cut just to the right of his knee cap. He had to take two weeks off from his training to recover. Two weeks may not seem like a long time, but it is when you are full throttle into your training regimen with only eight weeks to go. It's like turning your car off while your driving down the interstate at 65 miles per hour. You lose all momentum. In every race, though, there are unforeseen obstacles to overcome. It comes with the territory. Nike is a greek word that--most appropriately--means 'overcome'. Overcome. Exactly what you have to learn to do when you come up against adversity. And that is exactly what Eric did. At the end of those two weeks, he put his head down, set his mind on the task before him, and got to work. He put one foot in front of the other, little by little, step by step. In this part of his training, Eric got to physically experience God's Words: 'my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.' 1 Cor. 12:9. It was at this point that Eric realized in a more tangible way that it was going to take more than just physical strength to get him through this. He was going to have to rely on God and His strength when he came to the end of his rope.

As the countdown to the race came in sight, um, so did my 40th birthday. With my 40th birthday looming in view (it was seven days before the Ironman), my sanity went out the window. Seriously. I was off my rocker for about two weeks. We can laugh about it now, but I need to call a spade a spade. I was knee-deep in the sin of 'me-ism'. I really was. You know that 'other' competing train of thought that I mentioned at the beginning of this post? The one that had taken a back seat all of these months? Well, it reared its ugly head. It was short-lived, but no matter. It was there. I was certain Eric was not going to do anything special for my birthday because of the Ironman being right around the corner. The fact is, I really didn't know if he had or hadn't anything planned for me, but just in case he didn't, I was going to be mad at him. Proverbs 21:9 says 'better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife' and Proverbs 27:15 says 'a quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm.' Yes, I was leaky and annoying and Eric would have been better off living on the corner of our roof. Anyway, that it is the short version of it all. But I basically was a pain to live with for a couple of weeks! And guess what? Eric did some really, sweet things for my birthday and I allowed my ridiculous runaway emotions to spoil the time leading up to it. That is what happens when we allow our feelings to rule us rather than what we know is Truth or what we know is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, those memories will always be tainted with regret--regret that I chose my emotions to get the best of me. The bright side to this whole story is there is forgiveness and wide-open love on the other side of every sin. We can recognize our sin for what it is, turn from it and repent, thus restoring fellowship with our Creator and making our relationship with Him all that it is capable of. Whew. I am glad that part's over. And I am glad Eric didn't choose to shoot me during this time!

The morning of August 29. It finally came. We awoke at 4:30 am and I drove Eric down to the start line. Then I went home and got all my kids up and ready to go. Sporting our matching 'Team Groganator' shirts, we headed down to the start line at 6:30 am.

The day's forecast had an eerie ring to it. It was going to be in the upper 90's with high humidity. Brutally and stifling hot--the kind of day we in the Ohio Valley are used to in late August. The kind of day you want to spend lounging in a pool, not pounding the pavement. As we walked to the start line, in the distance we could see the Ohio River--an almost ominous steam settled lazily over its still, calm waters. Waters that would soon be torrent with activity.

The start of an Ironman is something to behold. For as far as we could see there were men and women lined up with their bathing caps and slicks on, their arms marked up with their racing number. There is music playing and an excitement in the air that is catching. As we watched the mass of people walk slowly forward waiting for their turn to jump in the water and start the 2.4 mile 'swim', I wondered what each of their stories were. In that crowd of people, there was one who had fought cancer and overcome and was now taking what he had learned through that physical trial and applying it to this monumental feat that stood before him. There was one who had suffered through a horrendous car crash, been told he would never walk again, yet--defying all odds--was standing in this line of people today. The oldest woman in the pack at the age of 62 was attempting her first Ironman. The oldest participant of all was a man of 79, who had twenty something Ironman's under his belt prior to this one. There was a woman who was here because she and her co-worker several months back had decided they were going to start doing triathlons to lose some much needed weight. Here she stood, 120 lbs lighter, doing her first Ironman. And among the participants there were many regular Joe's, such as Eric and two of his friends, Charlie and Scott. They were all three first-timers and had most everything in common except for the fact that (cough, cough) Eric is just a wee bit older than them.

After watching the start, we walked down to the transition area. The transition area is where the participants come up out of the water, change into their biking gear and retrieve their bikes. In the transition area there are rows and rows of bikes--2,600 to be exact. We stood on the side of the street, around the corner from where the bike course began, waiting to see Eric. We finally saw him. He stopped to talk to us. You could tell he was excited about his swim time. He looked strong and hyped up. He needed to be because 112 miles of rolling hills and lonely terrain loomed ahead of him; it would take him anywhere between 6 1/2 to 7 hours to complete the bike course. This is the part of the race that many of the participants' bodies would fall prey to the scorching heat.

The kids and I would now spend a large part of our day driving to different points along the bike course to cheer on Eric, Scott and Charlie. I now had my own Ironman challenge ahead of me: keep our five children in line (and off the streets!), make sure they had plenty of food and water, figure out where to stop and park along the race course, hopefully be able to find a place to park my ginormous big-rig, all the while sweating bullets in the thick of the heat.

We met a group of friends at a point about halfway along the bike course. We cheered on Scott--who seemed to pedal by effortlessly and then Charlie--whose smile seemed larger than his face--and then we waited. And waited. And waited. I began to worry. Was Eric, too, going to fall victim to this leg of the race? We finally saw him at the bottom of the hill. When I saw how white his face was I knew there was trouble. We learned his legs had been cramping basically since he had started biking. He was downing salt tablets, staying hydrated and eating. But nothing seemed to be working. His legs were just in one continual cramp. I began to wonder if he would be able to finish.

We continued to trek him along the bike course. As the day progressed, we saw the race bring more and more people down. Many were leaning against wooden fences or laid out in the shade of the trees, struggling through dehydration, heat exhaustion or severe leg cramps. Only mental toughness and sheer tenacity could get you through this part. Eric told us later that he started to wonder if he would be able to finish. He said his legs were cramping so badly he wonders how he got his pedals to turn and that he prayed and prayed and prayed over those long and lonely miles. Once again, he got to experience in a very tangible way the drawing upon the strength of the Lord when he had nothing left in himself. He drew on the bible verse 'that is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.' 2 Cor. 12:10, allowing the power of Christ to pedal him through.

It was long. It was brutal. It was tortuous. It was, for awhile, questionable--but he did it. Never was he happier to see that transition area as he finished mile 112, and never had he been more grateful to get off that bike! Now all he had to do was run a marathon. Yep. Just 26.2 miles. No big deal.

Of all the three components--swimming, running and biking--running is Eric's strength. The downfall, of course, is that you go into it with the brutality of the day weighing down on your body. Your muscles are sore and stretched beyond anything they have ever endured. You just have to resolve to keep going. You need a mind of steel that won't buckle under the physical strain of the pain. So many people came to cheer and root on Eric, Charlie and Scott that day. There were people along much of the running course that kept them going. Encouragement infuses courage and that is exactly what all of our friends and family did--they enfused those tired souls with courage.

As Eric approached the finish line, his excitement grew. His tired and sore muscles were forgotten as sheer exhiliration carried him. When he rounded the corner and saw the last one hundred yards in front of him, every grueling, painful inch of that race became worth it. As he ran those last steps, he thought to himself that what he was experiencing right at this moment must be a small glimpse--a snapshot--of what it will be like one day to step into eternity with our heavenly Father. At 9:26 pm, a mere 14 1/2 hours after he began, Eric came across the finish line. He got to hear those infamous words he had been waiting so long to hear: 'Eric Grogan--YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!' The words of 2 Tim. 4:7 had dual purpose for him that day: 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'

August 29th--I have such a vivid recollection of snapshots in my mine from this day. I picture Joshua and Sophie setting their alarms for 4:30 am just so they could give their daddy a big hug and wish him luck, I picture all of us taking turns decorating our van, I picture my tenacious friend Amy Jo and her family riding along with us in the big rig, directing me down side streets and such, I picture another friend pulling us together to pray for Eric after seeing him looking white as a ghost, I picture others who got on each other's shoulders to cheer on Eric at one point, I picture Eric's good friend Jeff giving him a pep talk at the bottom of a hill, I picture my in-laws sitting in their lawn chairs waiting to watch Eric pass, I picture us in our Team Groganator shirts, I picture the zillion kids of all of our friends and family chasing Eric down the street like the Pied Piper. And my favorite snapshot is when he crossed the finish line and did that little victory thing with his arm you see great athletes do after a big win!

What a special day this was for our family! This day was a day of us coming together and seeing a dream fulfilled for the leader of our pack. From that moment on, there was a definitive change in all of us. It inspired our kids to give it their all in the midst of their cross country season. It inspired me to not give up in the midst of training for the Colombus marathon. It inspired each of us to persevere when the going gets tough--to draw on that resolve and steadfastness that we had seen in the face of each of those Ironman participants that hot, steamy morning of August 29th.

Yes, this was the year of the Ironman. I believe, in all of God's sovereignty, Eric completed and accomplished this feat in August, 2010, because the Lord God knew what was coming. He knew that in the latter part of 2010, Eric would need to be able to draw upon all that he had learned on that scorching, August 29th day. He knew that once again Eric would need to draw on the fact that 'His power is made perfect in weakness.' God knew that on November 19th, 2010, Eric would lose his job. He knew that Eric and our whole family would need to take what we had learned physically about persevering and apply it to a difficult, life circumstance.

My devotional today in 'Jesus Calling' said this:

'When you are plagued by a persistent problem--one that goes on and on--view it as a rich opportunity. An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side. The learning possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable. In faith, thank Me for your problem. Ask Me to open your eyes and our heart to all that I am accomplishing through this difficulty. Once you have become grateful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down. On the contrary, your thankful attitude will lift you up into heavenly places with Me. From this perspective, your difficulty can be seen as a slight, temporary distress that is producing for you a transcendent Glory never to cease!'

Oh, I can truly say to you that God has been and continues to be so faithful to our family amidst this trying time. We do see this as a rich opportunity for learning how to live more like Jesus. We are having to rely on our Father in a way that we have never had to before. It is increasing our faith and our children's faith. It is teaching us to hold loosely to that which has no eternal value. And, oh, how it has taught us to be thankful!

A wise friend told us not to miss the many gifts God has for us while we walk through this. I am thankful for that advice. He has given us many, many treasures to behold during this trial. We have been able to have a relaxed Christmas season with Eric home. It, honestly, is the first year things have not felt busy and rushed. I wouldn't trade the time we've had together as a family for anything. Now, I'm warning you, the things I am about to tell you will make you a tad bit jealous. Eric has labeled and organized everything in our pantry. Then, our laundry room, in the unfinished area of our basement, used to be hazardous to walk through. But not now. I can do cartwheels free and clear. It is neat, clean, labeled, and organized. Now, I actually look forward to doing laundry, but you know what? I rarely do it these days because my machine husband is all over it! And--get a load of this--currently, Eric is typing up and organizing all my recipes...I know! Now you are wishing your husband could be unemployed too! :)

Of course, I am not exactly thrilled with ALL that he has been doing around here. Recently, he enacted this policy:

Yes, these are circles for each of our children's cups. Each day they are to use only one cup and when they are not using it, they must put their cup in 'their circle'. Okay. I'm sorry. That is so ANAL.


Yeah, I know. Some of you anal people out there think this is brilliant and you're going to institute the circle policy at your house too. You go right ahead. Knock yourselves out. But I'm not putting my cup in a circle when I come over, I'm not!

...All kidding aside, we are holding fast to God's promises as we seek Him and what He has in store in the coming months. We don't know how all of this will end up and shake out. But we do know that God is Jehovah Jireh--the Great Provider. He provides all that we need, when we need it. He will provide for our family in our current crisis. I am thankful he has prepared our hearts for such a time as this and has taught us about overcoming adversity. I am thankful for his Word in James 1:2-4 that tells us to 'consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.' I am thankful for this present testing of our faith, for what good is faith that has not been tested?

Overcome. It has been the year to overcome. The year of overcoming deaths of loved ones. The year of overcoming a bike wreck. The year of overcoming back issues and physical ailments. The year of overcoming a job loss. But, with Christ, we are more than conquerors.

'...In this world their will be trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.' John 16:33

God brought his precious Son, Jesus, into this world--a world laden with great sorrows and tribulation--to overcome that which is in the world. Only through Him and Him alone, can we experience eternal joy and unsurpassing peace.

'For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.' 1 John 5:4-5

All of us will undergo difficulties and trials. That's just life. Our hope is that no matter what your present circumstances, you will be overcome by the Overcomer--Jesus Christ. May you not look to the temporary things of this world to fill you, but may you find your fulfillment in that which is eternal! And may you be overcome with the everlasting love that God the Father wants to lavish upon you!

Merry Christmas!

With Love,
Eric, Maria, Joshua, Sophie, Wes, Jeremiah and Owen

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Be Still and Know That I am God'

'Be still and know that I am God' Psalm 46:10.

The classic verse, right? Walk into any Christian bookstore and you are sure to find this verse throughout. It's that standard verse that is quoted over and over again, often off-handedly and flippantly, without much thought. We've heard it so many times that we've stopped really hearing it. Or maybe it's because our society has gotten so busy, so rushed and so hurried that we can't fathom, relate to or understand such a verse anymore?

Recently, a friend gave me this verse as a piece of vinyl wall art to hang on my wall. We put it up in our kitchen above the desk where I sit and spend time with the Lord each morning. I love having these words right over the spot where I meet with Him. What a beautiful picture--to literally sit under His Word as I study His Word. It helps me to envision that His Word is all around me--above me and yet also right below my finger as I read. So comforting. So soothing.

Having this verse above where I sit also reminds me that He wants us to not just read His Word, but get 'all wrapped up in it'. We must allow it to steep into us (as a tea bag steeps in a cup of water), until we are changed. The longer a tea bag steeps in water the more flavorful it becomes. This concept is true of us as we steep on God's Word. We must sit and soak in Him long enough to change us, so that when we get up from our place of meeting we are transformed. When we get up to start our day, it is no longer just ourselves on our own, but we now have our Helper, the Holy Spirit, ignited within us to guide us through our day.

As I have met with Him and under Him, He has whispered over and over to me: 'Be still, be still my child. You cannot truly know me if you cannot be still.' Through this wall art hanging above me, in His gentle and loving way, He has brought me face to face with the sin I have struggled with most this year--being still. I have had to look this sin square in the face and repent. I have had to ask my sweet Lord and Savior to please forgive me for allowing the cares of this world to usurp Him.

God longs for us to linger with Him, to spend the one thing that we in our western civilization truly never have enough of--time. I've heard it said before that children spell love 't-i-m-e.' Why do they spell love in such a way? Because they need a relationship with us and a relationship can only be built with the building blocks of time. It takes one daily brick after another. It takes work, sweat, sacrifice and dedication. It's not for the faint at heart (or shall I say for the ADD at heart?). It takes focus. It takes intentionality. It takes commitment. If, in order for our relationships with our children to flourish, it takes our invaluable commodity of 'time', how much more so does our relationship with our Creator Father require such? Oh, He longs for our time. He wants our stillness. He wants us to give up our 'time' and give it to Him. He whispers 'let go... let go... please quit clinging so tightly. Please quit being distracted with all this world has to offer. Focus, sweet child, focus. Commit your ways to me...'

Was this all that the Lord wanted me to hear and to learn from this single verse? Of course not. As an onion has many layers, so does the Word of God. Mere days after hanging my wall art, I was sent an email from a friend regarding this very bible verse. I learned something that I had never known before. The word 'still' actually means 'weak'. This bit of knowledge unpacked this verse, and transformed it, giving a deeper, hidden message:

'Be weak and know that I am God...'

Be weak because that is the only way you are ever going to see Me show up, child. Be weak becauase 'my grace is sufficient in your weakness.' Come to me up under this Word of mine, weak-kneed and weary. You must see yourself as nothing. No self sufficiency can you bring. Come empty handed, willing to wait in my presence. Humble yourself under my mighty hand and I will lift you up.

Yes, in my weakness, He is strong. Only in my weakness and nothingness will I truly experience Him. Isn't it just like God to do things 'upside-down/topsy turvy', completely foreign and unknown to our natural inclinations? You see, when left up to us, we want to busy ourselves and fill every inch of our life with activity. When left up to us, we try to 'buck up' and handle all that life dishes out to us on our own. Our society tells us, 'Be strong. Be independent.' Being still and weak doesn't quite fit into the picture, does it? In fact, the word 'doing' is not even in God's initial equation. The doing comes only after we've surrendered before him, weak and still. The doing comes out of the quiet, small voice of Truth He whispers to us as we come up under Him in the quiet, morning hours. His Spirit's voice is like that of a gentle breeze that we will easily miss and overlook if our ear is not inclined to hear.

Surrender your time, your strength, your idols, my child. Be still, be weak and know that I am God. The all-encompassing, all fulfilling God.

Lord, thank you for this teaching. Thank you that there is always a deeper, hidden meaning to your Word and that you reveal yourself in supernatural ways--in ways that we cannot put pen to words. You reveal yourself when we are willing to surrender before you in stillness. We know this, because Your Word tells us so: "'No eye has seen, no ear has heart, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.' God has revealed this to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words." 1 Cor. 2:9-13

Thank you, sweet Jesus, thank you.

Amen. And Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Today's Bible Reading: 1 Peter 1

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Lord Jesus, thank you for choosing me. Thank you that you are sanctifying me through and through. Thank you that this sanctification process makes me a 'work in progress', that I can look back over these years of knowing you and see you working out your purposes, that I can see you working in your holiness and working out my sinful nature. Thank you that Jesus perfects me--while I'll never be totally free of my sinfulness on this side of heaven, Jesus' work on the cross allows you to see me as holy. Lord I want to be obedient to you and Your Word today. Please give me the strength and ability to do that which I am incapable to do on my own.

3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 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. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Oh, thank you for your mercy! For giving me a hope beyond hope through the resurrection of Jesus! While the things of this world will pass away, spoil or fade, my inheritance in you WILL NOT! My home will pass away, my latest decor will pass away, the latest clothing trends will pass away, my youth will pass away, but my estate in the heavenlies WILL NOT! Thank you for shielding me with your power, thank you that I can't understand all there is to know regarding my salvation--that you keep so much of it a mystery to me so that I must rely on You through trust alone.

I praise you and thank you for the current trials we are undergoing. First, the many deaths our family has experienced this year. We can't fathom or understand the timing, we can only walk forward and trust you and ask for your help to move through it. Allow this to strengthen our faith, as it reminds us that this life on earth is fleeting and temporary, but our life beyond here is not. That we can hope in a life eternally with you if we have an intimate knowledge of Jesus as our Savior.

Secondly, our current trial we are experiencing through Eric's job loss. Lord, we thank you, thank you, thank you, that this current trial is showing us more than ever before that our trust is NOT in the riches of this world. It is NOT in the silver, the gold and all of the 'things', we, in our materialistic society, put our hope in. Oh, we thank you that this current trial is strenghthening our faith! That it is being refined and tested! We beg you that our faith will be proved genuine and result in praise and glory in You and You alone!

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Thank you that your peace runneth through our souls in a way that we cannot describe but can only rejoice and treasure. Thank you that you are showing us what it means to truly rely on You and You alone. Thank you for the inexpressible joy you fill us with as we spend time with you. Oh, we love you so!

13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”[a]

Lord, forgive me for the many areas in my life that lack self control. Oh, for the many ways I waste time, the many ways I spend my time on selfish, fleeting things. Forgive me and help me see my time as a resource You have given me to spend for You and You alone. Forgive me for making my children's education too important. When I do that, convict me and help me make Your Word the core through which all else flows. Help me to put aside the many voices and thoughts from our society and be still and listen to You, through whom all real knowledge flows. May I focus on you so intently that others may even find me weird and that I wouldn't care what they thought. Forgive me for caring too much about what others think! Make my faith so strong that such thoughts don't even enter my mind.

Oh, Lord, forgive me for my disobedience! Oh, that I would not fall victim to the ignorance I once lived my life in before knowing You. When I do choose such behavior, I pray that I would quickly turn and repent immediately, align myself with You, and get back on the path of Holiness. Lord, thank you that while I will often struggle with sin and fall to it on this side of eternity, You see me as holy through the work of your son, Jesus.

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Lord your Word tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Give me a reverent fear of you so that I will live wisely and within the boundaries that you have lovingly put in my life. I pray I would not for a moment put my trust today in silver or gold or perishable things that are empty and worthless.

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.[b] 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”[c]

And this is the word that was preached to you.

Now, Lord that you have preached your Word to me, you have convicted my soul and allowed for confession and repentation. Next, Lord, let me walk forward today in obedience to whatever you are calling me to SO THAT I may have sincere, deep love for those around me! Let that love be so evident and overflowing today! May this love invest in those around me and plant seeds that flourish into beautiful, flowering petals that do not wither or blow away. Petals that shout: 'This is the LORD!' Petals that are rooted in and grow up out of your Word! For such petals endure forever. Lord, that I may capture your vision today and fulfill it!

In the Precious Name of your Loving Son, Jesus,

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A beautiful story

(So I really wanted to get this done BEFORE the World Series started, and now the Rangers are down two games :( but STILL--this is an amazing story, and if you don't know about it, please read! It is worth your time! AND--this story is a powerful picture of 'coming-back'. Who knows? Maybe the Rangers will have such a story at the end of this series! GO RANGERS!!!!!)

Baseball is a sport that takes pristine hand-eye coordination, rapidly-responding reflexes, along with an intellect that can process and react with extreme precision. And let's not forget about just good 'ole God-given talent.

From the beginning, all who knew Josh Hamilton knew they were witnessing something rare and special. That 'God-given' talent was already evident in his eight and nine year old leagues. He was so far beyond the other players his age, he began playing with kids two years older than him, and still--out shone them all. It was no surprise when he was the #1 draft pick at the age of eighteen, the youngest rookie to ever go #1 in the major leagues.

Throughout his entire growing up years, Josh was considered a 'good kid'--he never drank or smoke. However, all of that in 2002 when he was injured as a result of a car wreck. This car wreck would be the beginning of a downward spiral for Josh. For the first time in his life, he was unable to play baseball. Struggling with boredom and depression, Josh's life began a slow downward spiral...

It started with going to the tatoo parlor and getting inked. Then he began drinking and getting high with the employees. From there, he began using other more potent drugs, such as cocaine, and then finally, crack... it seemed that his life and his baseball talent would be given over to his addiction. People began talking about him with a shake of their head and saying things like, 'what a shame....' Most everyone gave up on him.

Everyone, that is, except God. God--the Great Redeemer--who, in all His mercy, swooped down, taking Josh off the path of destruction and putting him on the path of life.

Friday night when the Rangers beat the Yankees to go on to the World Series, Josh Hamilton knew that that win and that night was about a whole lot more than baseball. Named the MVP of the American League, Josh had this to say when interviewed after the game: '...I just give glory to God. I couldn't get through each day without my relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus--He's my best friend. I owe this to Him.'

The following is Josh's story in his own words, published in an ESPN magazine a few years back when he was playing for the Cinncinati Reds. Please read it; it is SOOO worth reading:

To let you know how far I've come, let me tell you where I've been.

Not that long ago, there were nights I went to sleep in strange places praying I wouldn't wake up. After another night of bad decisions, I'd lie down with my heart speeding inside my chest like it was about to burst through the skin. My thinking was clouded, and my talent was one day closer to being totally wasted.

I prayed to be spared another day of guilt and depression and addiction. I couldn't continue living the life of a crack addict, and I couldn't stop, either. It was a horrible downward spiral that I had to pull out of, or die. I lay there -- in a hot and dirty trailer in the North Carolina countryside, in a stranger's house, in the cab of my pickup -- and prayed the Lord would take me away from the nightmare my life had become.

When I think of those terrible times, there's one memory that stands out. I was walking down the double-yellow of a two-lane country highway outside Raleigh when I woke up out of a trance.

I was so out of it I had lost consciousness, but my body had kept going, down the middle of the road, cars whizzing by on either side. I had run out of gas on my way to a drug dealer's house, and from there I left the truck and started walking. I had taken Klonopin, a prescription antianxiety drug, along with whatever else I was using at the time, and the combination had put me over the edge. It's the perfect example of what I was: a dead man walking.

And now, as I stand on the green grass of a major league outfield or walk to the batter's box with people cheering for me, I repeatedly ask myself one simple question: How did I get here from there?

I've been in the big leagues as a member of the Cincinnati Reds for half a season, but I still find myself taking off my cap between pitches and taking a good look around. The uniform, the ballparks, the fans -- it doesn't seem real. How am I here? It makes no sense to anybody, and I feel almost guilty when I have to tell people, over and over, that I can't answer that one simple question.

I go to sleep every night with a clear mind and a clear conscience. Every day, I walk into an immaculate clubhouse with 10 TVs and all the food I can eat, a far cry from the rat-infested hellholes of my user past. I walk to my locker and change into a perfectly clean and pressed uniform that someone else hung up for me. I grab a bat and a glove and walk onto a beautifully manicured field to play a game for a living.

How am I here? I can only shrug and say, "It's a God thing." It's the only possible explanation.

There's a reason my prayers weren't answered during those dark, messed-up nights I spent scared out of my mind. There's a reason I have this blessed and unexpected opportunity to play baseball and tell people my story.

My wife, Katie, told me this day would come. At my lowest point, about three years ago, when I was wasting away to skin and bones and listening to nobody, she told me I'd be back playing baseball someday. She had no reason to believe in me. During that time, I did nothing to build my body and everything to destroy it. I'd go five or six months without picking up a ball or swinging a bat. By then, I'd been in rehab five or six times -- on my way to eight -- and failed to get clean. I was a bad husband and a bad father, and I had no relationship with God. Baseball wasn't even on my mind.

And still Katie told me, "You're going to be back playing baseball, because there's a bigger plan for you." I couldn't even look her in the eye. I said something like, "Yeah, yeah, quit talking to me."

She looks pretty smart, doesn't she? I have a mission now. My mission is to be the ray of hope, the guy who stands out there on that beautiful field and owns up to his mistakes and lets people know it's never completely hopeless, no matter how bad it seems at the time. I have a platform and a message, and now I go to bed at night, sober and happy, praying I can be a good messenger.

Addiction is a humbling experience. Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered. Instead of asking to be bailed out, instead of making deals with God by saying, "If you get me out of this mess, I'll stop doing what I'm doing," I asked for help. I wouldn't do that before. I'd been the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, supposedly a five-tool prospect. I was a big, strong man, and I was supposed to be able to handle my problems myself. That didn't work out so well.

Every day I'm reminded that my story is bigger than me. It never fails. Every time I go to the ballpark, I talk to people who are either battling addictions themselves or trying to help someone else who is. Who talks to me? Just about everybody. I walked to the plate to lead off an inning in early May, minding my own business, when the catcher jogged out to the mound to talk to his pitcher. As I was digging in, the home plate umpire (I'm intentionally not naming him) took off his mask and walked around the plate to brush it off. He looked up at me and said, "Josh, I'm really pulling for you. I've fought some battles myself, and I just want you to know I'm rooting for you."

A father will tell me about his son while I'm signing autographs. A mother will wait outside the players' parking lot to tell me about her daughter. They know where I've been. They look to me because I'm proof that hope is never lost.

They remind me that this isn't really about baseball. It's amazing that God allowed me to keep my baseball talents after I sat out three years and played only 15 games last season in A-ball. On May 6, I hit two homers against the Rockies at home, and I felt like I did in high school. I felt like I could do anything on the field.

I've been called the biggest surprise in baseball this year, and I can't argue with that. If you think about it, how many people have gone from being a crack addict to succeeding at anything, especially something as demanding as major league baseball? If I hadn't been picked up by the Reds after the Rule 5 draft, which opened up a major league roster spot for me, I'd probably still be in A-ball. Instead, I'm hanging around .270 with 13 homers through 60 games with Cincinnati; not bad for a 26-year-old major league rookie. But the way I look at it, I couldn't fail. I've been given this platform to talk about the hell I've been through, so it's almost like I need to do well, like I don't have a choice.

This may sound crazy, but I wouldn't change a thing about my path to the big leagues. I wouldn't even change the 26 tattoos that cover so much of my body, even though they're the most obvious signs of my life temporarily leaving the tracks. You're probably thinking, Bad decisions and addiction almost cost him his life, and he wouldn't change anything? But if I hadn't gone through all the hard times, this whole story would be just about baseball. If I'd made the big leagues at 21 and made my first All-Star team at 23 and done all the things expected of me, I would be a big-time baseball player, and that's it.

Baseball is third in my life right now, behind my relationship with God and my family. Without the first two, baseball isn't even in the picture. Believe me, I know.

***** I'LL NEVER forget Opening Day in Cincinnati. When they called my name during introductions and a sellout crowd stood and cheered, I looked into the stands and saw Katie and our two kids -- Sierra, who's nearly 2, and my 6-year-old stepdaughter, Julia -- and my parents and Katie's parents. I had to swallow hard to keep from breaking down right there. They were all crying, but I had to at least try to keep it together.

I pinch-hit in the eighth inning of that game against the Cubs, and Lou Piniella decided to make a pitching change before I got to the plate. The crowd stood and cheered me for what seemed like forever. It was the best sound I've ever heard. When I got into the box, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett looked up at me from his crouch and said, "You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I'm happy for you." I lined out to left, but the following week I got my first start and my first hit -- a home run.

Whether I hit two bombs or strike out three times, like I did in a game against the Pirates, I never forget that I'm living with addiction. It's just part of my life. Johnny Narron, my former manager's brother, is a big part of my recovery. He's the Reds' video coordinator, and he once coached me in fall baseball when I was 15. He looks after me on the road. When they pass out meal money before a trip -- always in cash -- they give mine to Johnny, and he parcels it out to me when I need it.

I see no shame in that; it's just one of the realities of my situation. I don't need to be walking around with $400 in my pocket.

I know I'm different, and my teammates have been very accepting. Being a rookie in the big leagues, there are certain rituals involved, and one of them is carrying beer onto the plane. My teammates gave me that job on one of the first road trips, and I didn't do it. I didn't think it would be a good idea for me to be seen carrying beer onto a plane. They respected my decision.

I get a lot of abuse in visiting cities, but it only bothers me when people are vulgar around kids. The rest I can handle. Some of it is even funny. In St. Louis, I was standing in rightfield when a fan yelled, "My name is Josh Hamilton, and I'm a drug addict!" I turned around and looked at him with my palms raised to the sky. "Tell me something I don't know, dude," I said. The whole section started laughing and cheering, and the heckler turned to them and said, "Did you hear that? He's my new favorite player." They cheered me from that point on.

I live by a simple philosophy: Nobody can insult me as much as I've insulted myself. I've learned that I have to keep doing the right things and not worry about what people think. Fortunately, I have a strong support group with Katie, my family and Johnny. If I ever get in a bad situation, I know I would have to get out of it and give Johnny a call. The key is not getting myself into those situations, but we've talked about having a plan for removing myself just in case. It's all part of understanding the reality of the addiction.

In spring training, when I hit over .400 and made the team, there was a lot of interest in my story.

I decided to be open about what happened to me; early on, I was doing long interviews before my first game in every city. It's been amazing how people have responded, and I think being honest helped. I can't avoid my past, so I don't try. It's not always easy, though. I got sick in late May and ended up on the disabled list after going to the hospital with a stomach problem, and I knew I'd have to answer questions about whether I was using again. I can't control what people think, but the years of drug abuse tore up my immune system pretty good. I get tested three times a week, and if it comes back positive, I know I'm done with baseball for life.

Aside from our struggles as a team, this season has been a dream for me. And that's fitting, because in a way I had to learn how to dream all over again. When I was using, I never dreamed. I'd sleep the dead, dreamless sleep of a stalled brain. When I stopped using, I found my dreams returned. They weren't always good dreams; most of the ones I remember were haunting and dark. They stayed with me long after I woke up.

Within my first week of sobriety in October 2005 -- after I showed up at my grandmother's house in Raleigh in the middle of the night, coming off a crack binge -- I had the most haunting dream. I was fighting the devil, an awful-looking thing. I had a stick or a bat or something, and every time I hit the devil, he'd fall and get back up. Over and over I hit him, until I was exhausted and he was still standing.

I woke up in a sweat, as if I'd been truly fighting, and the terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day. I'd been alone for so long, alone with the fears and emotions I worked so hard to kill. I'm not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother's room and crawled under the covers with her. The devil stayed out of my dreams for seven months after that. I stayed clean and worked hard and tried to put my marriage and my life back together. I got word in June 2006 that I'd been reinstated by Major League Baseball, and a few weeks afterward, the devil reappeared.

It was the same dream, with an important difference. I would hit him and he would bounce back up, the ugliest and most hideous creature you could imagine. This devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn't knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus, battling alongside me. We kept fighting, and I was filled with strength. The devil didn't stand a chance.

You can doubt me, but I swear to you I dreamed it. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn't scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone, I couldn't win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn't lose.

***** I GET cravings sometimes, and I see it as the devil trying to catch me in a weak moment. The best thing I can do is get the thought out of my mind as soon as I can, so it doesn't turn into an obsession. When it happens, I talk to him. I talk to the devil and say, "These are just thoughts, and I'm not going to act on them." When I talk like that, when I tell him he's not going to get the best of me, I find the thought goes away sooner.

Believe it or not, talking to the devil is no harder to explain than many other experiences I've had since that day last December when my life changed. I was working for my brother's tree service in Raleigh, sending limbs through a chipper, when I found out I'd been selected by the Cubs and traded to the Reds in the Rule 5 draft.

But there is one story that sticks with me, so much so that I think of it every day. I was driving out of the players' parking lot at Great American Ball Park after a game in May, with Katie and our two girls. There's always a group of fans standing at the curb, hoping to get autographs, and I stop to sign as many as I can.

And on this particular night, a little boy of about 9 or 10, wearing a Reds cap, handed me a pen and something to sign. Nothing unusual there, but as I was writing the boy said, "Josh, you're my savior."

This stopped me. I looked at him and said, "Well, thank you. Do you know who my savior is?"

He thought for a minute. I could see the gears turning. Finally, he smiled and blurted out, "Jesus Christ." He said it like he'd just come up with the answer to a test. "That's exactly right," I said.

You see, I may not know how I got here from there, but every day I get a better understanding of why.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A League of Their Own (Wes' season)

This last and final baseball entry is about Wes and his season. I entitled it 'A League of Their Own' because Wes' team was one of those special teams that you hope to experience in your sport's career. I am going to do my best to describe it.

We prayed and prayed that Wes would get on a good team with a good coach for a couple of reasons. One, Wes had been on a team the prior year that had really struggled and we were hopeful he might be on a better one this season. Two, while all of our boys love baseball, Wes takes the cake. He is about as fanatical as they come for an eight year old.

Every spring afternoon, Wes would spend a couple of hours, at least, practicing baseball. As I would do the dishes, I would look out the kitchen window and see Wes out in the back yard practicing running the bases. As I homeschooled the others, I would hear him throwing the ball up against the side of the house. While I made supper, I could hear him in the garage doing hitting drills. No, I am not kidding. Joshua is pretty disciplined about practicing, but I think Wes even beat him out on hours of practice. I started referring to Wes as Mr. Baseball.

So, you can see why we were hopeful he would get on a team with a coach that took it serious. Well, did God ever answer that prayer...

Wes was put on the Pirates. From the first five minutes of his first practice, we could tell that Wes had a great coach. Eric came home from that practice and said,'this guy really knows what he's doing. He sure can teach the fundamentals of the game.' Now, I am not one to like to sit through watching practices; in the past I have considered them a bit boring. But, after watching one Pirate's practice, I was hooked. This guy (Coach Matt) could even make practice exciting to watch. Pretty soon, Eric and I were fighting over who got to take Wes to practice!

Coach Matt was one of the most efficient coaches I've ever seen. He was completely on top of every drill they did. He had a knack for getting every bit of talent out of each of the players he coached. He was hard but he also really cared about the boys and made it fun. It was kind of like seeing tough love in action.

He was every bit as efficient off the field as he was on. He sent out detailed emails letting us know exactly what was going on when. Not only that, but you would have thought these boys were on an all-star team, as he had us order two different pair of baseball pants for the boys with black belts and black socks. One pair of pants were black and white pin striped. The other pair were gray with a black stripe down the side. He then gave us a schedule of which pants to wear for each game. He also bought black Pirates batting helmets for them to wear when batting. For himself, he bought the traditional black Pirates baseball hat and shirt to wear to each game. Whether or not we would be any good was still out on the table, but we sure were going to dress the part. All of this extra effort on his part made the anticipation mount; we anxiously awaited opening day. And I thought, 'Mr. Baseball (Wes), meet Mr. Baseball (Coach Matt).' Yes, our Mr. Baseball had met his match!

We needn't have worried about whether or not our talent was going to be able to match our attire. The Pirates won their first game 20 something to 0. It was a bit of a blow out and I started to feel badly for the other team and hoped they would at least get on the board.

Every game began to be a repeat of that first one. Now, you would have thought it would have started to get boring--to win every game by so many runs. The interesting thing is, it didn't. It got more and more exciting. There was something special about the chemistry of our team. As my mother-in-law said, 'there is just something magical about them.' I was amazed at the defensive ability of these eight and nine year olds. That is basically why our opponents couldn't get many runs on the board; they couldn't get much by them. We saw them turn several double plays. We saw some amazing catches. And we saw these boys instinctively know at what base to make the play. Many of the teams had difficulty stealing second because our catcher could get them out at second. We heard Coach Matt say more than once, 'defense always beats offense. Always.' Now, the boys could really hit the ball too, but it was their defense that made them stand out and made them truly fun to watch.

Coach Matt is 100% Italian...if you can picture 'Cake Boss' except in the world of baseball, you've got the picture. He could be--well--intense. He has that typical Italian personality. He doesn't hold back what he is feeling when he is feeling it. So he culd be explosive one minute and encouraging the next. The thing is, for every bit of his toughness, he was equally praiseworthy over a good play. Not only that, the time and effort he put into these boys was unbelievable. He took them and paid for ice cream for the team after several games. He reserved and paid for batting cages for batting practice for the entire team at least twice. He offered to meet with the boys individually outside of practice and work on hitting or fielding. And when the season was about midway through, he sent out an email inviting the entire team and families to an end of season cookout and swim party at their community pool. He really put his all into this team.

Well, at the end of the regular season we were undefeated. I think the closest anyone ever came to beating us was within six runs. We were excited to play in the tournament. We had been playing National League teams all season...but their were two teams in the American League that we would eventually face that were going to be hard to beat. They were both good hitting teams and pretty good defensively. We would have to be playing our best to beat them.

The tournament began. We won our first three games easily by several runs. At this point, we advanced to the semi-finals. There were four teams left and it became double elimination. The next team we faced were the Blue Jays. In my opinion, they were our toughest competition. It was going to be pretty evenly matched and our boys would have to fight through the game and give it their all if they were going to beat this team.

This game was the biggest nail biter in history. Not to mention, Eric had stayed back for a couple of days in Murray, KY to be with his grand-dad (his grandmother had just passed away), and it was just me and Owen, my three year old, at the game. AND, Joshua's team was playing a few fields over at the same time in their tournament game, which was also a nail biter. What's a mom to do? I was running back and forth like a chicken with its head cut off, dragging Owen with me and cheering like a crazy woman. INTENSE, to say the least! I earned a few more gray hairs that night, for sure.

Basically, it was an extremely close game, resulting in it being tied 6 to 6 in the last inning. This was the first time we hadn't scored several runs in a game because this was the first time we had ever played a team that could stop us in the field. The Blue Jays had some amazing catches in the out field to say the least. Also, our defense played an impeccable game that night. To be honest, it was close to perfect--the best defense I had seen them play yet.

Tied 6-6, we went into extra innings, with the Pirates having the home advantage. That flip for Home probably won that game for us. We got a couple of runs in, making the score 8-6. They then got another run in, making it a one point ballgame. They had some players on base, yet we were able to hold them and win the game. YES! Coach Matt praised the team that night for their defense and warning them that we would see the Blue Jays again. You see, the Blue Jays were now in the losers bracket; they would play the loser between the Rays and the Marlins. However, most likely they would win that game, resulting in them playing again. We would play the winner between the Rays and the Marlins (are you confused yet? I know! But hold tight, even if you don't really get who's playing who. The ending is worth it!).

The Rays ended up winning, so next up would be the Pirates vs. Rays and the Bluejays vs. the Marlins. This game was super important because both the Rays and the Pirates had yet to lose a game. Whoever won this would have a huge advantage. All they would have to do is show up on Friday night for the championship game and win. The loser however, would have to win three games to become the champions.

Now, remember, we are going into this game yet to have lost a game, and we are the only team in the whole Lyndon Recreational League with an undefeated record. Going into a tournament with such a record can sometimes be a disadvantage because whether you mean to or not, you get a bit of an 'air', if you know what I mean.

So here we go. The biggest game of the year. Rays vs. Pirates. From the start, it was as if all was against us. It seemed as if the game was 'off' from the start. Coach Matt was wound up tight. Our boys were wound up tight. As a result, our guys made fielding errors they hadn't made all year. I have to say it was a real let-down. It's harder to stomach a loss, I think, when you know you could have played better.

As we walked to our cars that night, I wondered how our team would react to this loss. We hadn't ever had to deal with losing before. Would it get the best of us? Would they be able to keep it from ruffling them? I knew our team had a lot of talent but could it come back on Friday and do the seemingly impossible feat of winning three tough games? Only time would tell.

Friday rolled around and we (as Coach Matt predicted) faced the Blue Jays again. To make it to the championship game we had to beat the Blue Jays and then immediately play a second game against the Rays. If we were able to muster up a win against the Rays, we would then come back the following morning and play the Rays one more time for the Championship title. All the Rays had to do tonight was waltz in and play the winner of the Pirates and the Blue Jays.

Well, the Blue Jays were out for blood. This turned out to be, again, just as much as a nail biter as the very first tournament game we played against them. Except this time they wanted revenge. BAD. But we had something that night that I think gave us the edge to pull out a win. Remember the infamous line between Julius and Gerry in 'Remember the Titans'?

'Attitude reflects leadership.'

That night's game showcased Coach Matt's love for his boys. He showed up with a sound system for the game that night so that the boys could be announced prior to the game and prior to batting. He had music playing from the sound system before the game and in between innings. At the beginning of the tournament, Coach Matt had told the boys he would get a mohawk if they won the championship. So, all around the dug out he hand hung these posters:

Coach Matt set the tone for the evening by making it fun. Rather than our boys being wound tight, our boys caught the spirit and looked like they were having the time of their lives. The attitude definitely reflected the leadership that night.

Play Ball!

And that our boys did. I daresay both teams gave it their all. It was back and forth, good play after good play. Both teams were 'on'. Both teams looked unstoppable.

But we edged ahead our last time to bat. We were the visitors so we had to hold them. And that we did!

The Pirates were headed to the Championship!

The Rays waltzed out on the field. Cool and crisp, clean and tidy, not having played a game minutes before. Oh, this one was going to be a tough one. Could we do it?

From the start the Rays seemed to have the upper hand. And we just looked, well, tired. Even though we were down a couple of runs in our last inning up to bat (we were visitors again), I just couldn't shake the feeling that this game wasn't over yet.

One out.

Two outs.

Last person up to bat.

Two strikes. Full count.

Ball is pitched. Bat is swung. The bat connects with the ball, with a beautiful cracking sound. The ball is hit out into the field. Bases are rounded...

In a crucial moment with two outs and two strikes, the tide is turned. Just like that. When the inning ends, we are up by two. The Rays seemed stunned and perplexed when they come up to bat. They can't get anything going, and ...

The Pirates won!!!!

Yes! We are headed to the championship that next morning. We must play the Rays one more time and win to be the champions!

That next morning, the smell of victory was in the air. You just sensed it was going to be a good day. You sensed Coach Matt would be heading to the barber after the game.

I wish I could remember every detail to tell you. Every play. I wish I had recorded it right when it happened. It was one of those special moments in your sports career that every boy dreams of. Some get to experience it more than once. Some never get the chance. My eight-year-old boy got to taste and smell the sweetness of a championship victory. It was as if he had just won the Worlds Series (parents, you know what I am talking about!). It was a special moment, indeed! A cherished moment in the life of our family to forever be remembered.

Coach Matt did go and get his mohawk and we had a pool and pizza party immediately following the big win. A fun way to end a fun season.

And next year we get to do it all over again. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Joshua's Season

As I stated in an earlier post, Joshua had been playing on a travel baseball team for the last two years. However, the coach had decided to discontinue the team for the coming year. So we had to make a decision on where he would play. We chose to have all of our boys play recreational ball at Lyndon.

Joshua was randomly assigned to the Bluejays in the 12/13 year old league. To say that the team got off to a rough start would be putting it mildly. They couldn't seem to win a game nor even come close to winning, for that matter. Their team seemed to lack energy and excitement. While the team may have been struggling to perform, I was definitely impressed with the kid's behavior. The coach in the very first practice let them know that he did not entertain any language from the players on his team and if he heard any that they would not play. I was very thankful for his coach's stance on that as I saw and heard otherwise on other teams. From the start, there were no bad attitudes or issues of that sort from any of the players and I truly believe it was because the coach set that standard from the beginning.

Joshua's playing was adequate; there still seemed to be some kind of disconnect going on when he stepped up to the plate. He just didn't perform. Don't misunderstand what I am trying to say. Not everyone is going to be a great baseball player, and that is fine. We have always asked our kids to just do the very best they can, whatever that may be. Give your all; don't hold back. It was just this feeling that he wasn't quite giving 100%; like he was holding back something. The strange thing about all of this was that Joshua is one of the hardest working, disciplined kids I've been around. He is extremely competitive and usually does give his all. I continued praying that God would turn Joshua's hitting around, that He would build Joshua's confidence and that they would at least win a game.

So the season continued and slowly the Blue Jays improved, yet they still couldn't seem to win a game. One practice, about mid season, the coach had them all bring their favorite fruit to practice. Their hitting practice consisted of hitting fruit. The team had more fun that night then they had probably had at all their games combined. I don't know if the coach expected this, but the payoff from that night of practice was strangely fruitful. The next night at their game, the Blue Jays turned it on at the plate. They were on fire and played like we'd never seen them play. They had an energy and excitement we had yet to see them have. They played well and won! While I can't say they suddenly became this amazing team that couldn't be beat, they definitely turned a corner that night. They finally began playing together as a team, displaying zeal and confidence that hadn't been there before.

Little by little, Joshua improved. Little by little his confidence seemed to be coming back. He began to get on the base more than not. And if he could get on the base, you could almost guarantee a run. Yet, there still seemed to be something holding him back...

The last game of the regular season, the Blue Jays faced the Cardinals who were #1 in the league. At the beginning of the season, our coach had told our team that they would beat the Cards before the season was over. That goal had and still seemed to be unattainable.

Yet something completely amazing happened that night. Our team was completely on their game that night. The score went back and forth throughout the game. In the last inning, we were down by four runs. But the Bluejays came back and tied it! We were now going into extra innings!

It seemed from this point forward for every play we made the Cards couldn't. For every pop fly we caught, the Cards couldn't. For every hit we got, the Cards, couldn't. In short, we outplayed them and won!

While Joshua had had an error or two early in the game, he was on fire for the rest of it. He had some incredible hits, great base running and great defense.

After the win, the coach gathered them around and what I heard I will never forget. He said: 'I told all of you that we would beat the Cards before the season was over, didn't I? At the beginning of the year, I knew we were lacking in talent, that some of you were playing baseball for the very first time and that it was going to be a slow go. But I've always said that baseball is more about the heart than about talent. And that's what I saw tonight. I saw a lot of heart. I would rather have someone with a lot of heart playing for me any day than someone with talent and no heart. Also, Grogan and me--we had a little talk early on in the game, didn't we Grogan? He had a few errors and he was mad and down on himself. I told him 'are you going to throw away the rest of the game because of a few errors? Baseball is a game of second chances. It's a forgiving game. You got to look forward and focus on what is in front of you, not on what you did or didn't do. And Grogan did just that and look at the kind of game he had. Never forget that boys. It is the game of second chances.'

Okay, that is about the best talk I ever heard. I think he deserves a baseball academy award for that one. It suddenly hit me that he had just summed up what we had seen Joshua do for the past two years. Joshua is about as perfectionistic as they come and can get down on himself for the smallest mistake. This 'talk' was exactly what Joshua needed and exactly when he needed it. It was a break through. I realized in that moment that God had been hearing my prayers all season and was answering them in His way in His timing. He had everything under control. I knew in my spirit that something changed that night. It was the monumental breakthrough that we had been praying for him.

The tournament started the very next week. Being that we had one of the worst records in the league, we were scheduled to play the #1 team. Yes, you guessed it. We were set to face off against the Cardinals. The odds were totally stacked against them. To be able to pull an upset two times in a row would take an act of God.

Well, acted He did. Once again the Blue Jays won and it wasn't even as close this time! They outplayed them in every way, resulting in the Blue Jays picking off the #1seeded team in the tournament! Joshua continued to play well and it was an exciting night, indeed.

Two nights later, the Blue Jays won again, allowing them to advance to the semi finals of the tournament. At this point in the tournament, there were four teams left and it became double elimination. The Blue Jays were definitely the underdogs but we were ecstatic to have made it this far! Who knew at the beginning of the season we would be seeing this struggling team in the finals of the tournament? God knew, that's who!

Well, I wish I could write that the Blue Jays continued with their miraculous run, and won it all--wouldn't that make for a good ending? Unfortunately, they just couldn't pull it off in the next two games. They lost both and finished fourth in the tournament. We ended on an upbeat, though. In my opinion, to watch a team or athlete improve dramatically from the beginning of a season to an end is one of the most rewarding things to witness.

On a personal note, Joshua was selected to the all-star team, which couldn't have been a better way for him to end his baseball season. It was probably his best played game of the year. He was especially psyched to lead off at bat and play short stop. It made me smile to see him smiling and enjoying himself and playing his heart out. As I watched this game I kept remembering what his coach had said: 'I'd rather have heart over talent anyday...'

I realized this season had been about a lot more than baseball. It had been about recapturing Joshua's heart. It had been about getting out there and enjoying the game and doing the best he could and then being satisfied with that. It had been about learning to be okay with yourself when you make an error. He had learned that you don't look back, agonizing over what could have been, that you've got to keep looking forward, knowing that there is always a second chance around the bend.

Philippians 3:12-14: 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

One day after the season was over, Joshua said to me out of the blue: "I know why I was in such a hitting slump for so long."


It was like we finally had all the missing pieces to the puzzle. While I am not sure why it took two years for Joshua to talk about this fear he was having, I believe it was all in God's timing. He knew that Joshua needed this particular coach and this particular league for this particular season in his life to teach him these particular lessons. The lessons that Joshua learned regarding conquering fears, playing with his heart, and looking forward and not back are life lessons that can be applied to any situation.

God knows what we need when we need it. I am thankful that He listens to a mother's prayers and he answers them in His timing and His way. I am thankful that He cares about a twelve year old's baseball season enough to help conquer his fears and recapture the excitement and heart of the game. I am thankful for sports in our children's lives and all the things about life our children can learn from them. I am thankful for the coaches and how they have influenced each of our kids thus far. Our God is a personal God who cares about even the seemingly small matters in life. Oh, how I am thankful to serve such a God!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jeremiah's Season

I am going to start with my little t-baller and reminisce over his t-ball year. That would be our six year old, Jeremiah. Now, you might be thinking, for crying out loud it's just t-ball. Like it matters! Well, yes and no. Yes, you are right, in the fact that it is just t-ball. And no, you are wrong, because Jeremiah had a set of coaches that determinedly decided to put there all into this t-ball team and make it matter. Jeremiah is our third boy and we have seen a lot of baseball seasons come and go (many of those seasons played in a church league) and we have never been as impressed with a set of t-ball coaches as we were with these guys.

First of all, their organization was impeccable. We usually got two lengthy, detailed emails a week. They sent email reminders about practices and about games, even though we had a game schedule. They sent a follow up email about each game. They were the kings of communication. It was great.

Secondly, our team was the Twins and they had a little cheer we did at the beginning and end of each game and practice: 'Twins! Twins! Twins!' They even ended each email with this chant. I loved it.

Thirdly, these guys grew up playing Lyndon baseball and they wanted each of our little guys on the team to have the same great experience that they had had growing up playing baseball there. So, they put their hearts into it.

Fourth, they had some awesome techniques for getting our kids to run through the bases and actually play the positions they were at. Most of the t-ball teams we played, all the kids would run after the ball when it was hit rather than playing their spot, resulting in mass chaos on the field. Our team didn't do that though; they actually taught them how to play their spot. Incredible.

Fifth, they were so positive and used positive reinforcement with everything. It was great. They also got to know each individual player and really worked with them on their baseball skills.

Sixth, and most importantly, they made it fun. They were a fun group of guys that wanted the season to be the best it could be. At the end of the season they gave each player a baseball signed by all three coaches with the name of the team and the year on it. They said a little bit about each player. These coaches reminded me that every little bit of influence you have counts, even when it is 'just' t-ball (or 'just' preschool, or 'just' _________--you feel in the blank). When you give it your all it makes a difference and you turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.

I got a bit teary-eyed this year at the last game, knowing next year Jeremiah would be moving on to a different team and it would be all up in the air again--what team he will be on, who'll be his coach... We will be facing uncertainty again. But then God reminded me that uncertainty is good. It keeps us relying on Him as we wait to see what He has in store in the next season of life.

One last funny thing about all of this. Jeremiah turned six in June--he could have gone either way in terms of which league to play in. He could have 'played up' in coach pitch or he could have stayed a second year in t-ball. Jeremiah has been playing baseball with his older brothers since he learned how to walk, so as you can imagine, he is a pretty good player. Yes, in all respects he probably should have 'played up'. But we loved his coaches SO MUCH, and we just couldn't part with them, so we decided to play down. Maybe, if he plays professional baseball someday we'll get to tell the story about how he 'played down' in t-ball! Ha! :)

Unwrapping the Gifts in this Baseball Season

Wow, am I ever behind on journaling about our lives. I have so much to write about and yet so little time to ever sit down and try to put two thoughts cohesively together! Did that last sentence even make sense... Oh well, I better throw out the perfection and just get to writing if I am ever going to get anywhere with this blogging thing.

So, the last thing I wrote about was baseball... and I have to finish up by posting about our baseball seasons. This year was significant for many reasons and I've got to write about it or it's soon going to go into the 'land of fuzzy memories'.

Just to give you some background...prior to this season, Joshua had been playing on a travel baseball team for the last two years. At the time, it seemed to fit perfectly into our lives because the man who started that team had a vision of 'God first, family second, baseball third.' He wanted to create a 'travel' team that did not go overboard in the amount of baseball games and travel involved, yet was more competitive and serious than a recreational league. This seemed a perfect fit for our family as we too do not want baseball (or any sport for that matter) to be all-consuming. We had a great couple of years of baseball with this team; however, at the end of the last season, the coach decided to discontinue the team.

Hence, it was decision time. What to do with Joshua after being out of the 'rec' ball atmosphere for a few years? Many of his teammates were trying out for another travel team in town. Honestly, though, Joshua had really struggled with his hitting ability over the last two years. He was in a slump that he had yet to get out of. We were at a loss at what was going on when he got up to the plate. Both Eric and I felt he needed to go back to rec ball, get his confidence up, and get practice playing several different positions, and just have some good 'ole fun.

Thus, the decision was made to go back to Lyndon Recreation. Jeremiah would be playing with the team he played with last year and Joshua and Wes would be thrown into the 'lottery' and randomly put on a team.

I prayed and prayed over the teams they would be on. I prayed for an amazing season for each of them. I specifically prayed that this would be a confidence building year for Joshua and he would get out of his hitting slump. I specifically prayed that Wes would get on a winning team with a good coach, as the prior year he had been on a team that struggled to perform.

God is such an amazing and good God. He loves to give good gifts to his children. And that is exactly how I view our baseball season--a beautiful gift from God. He gave each of our boys exactly what they needed this baseball season and then far more than we could have ever asked or imagine. He answered every prayer we prayed for this season for them. I do not know why I am so surprised. God delights in answering our prayers, even those as seemingly insignificant as baseball.

My next three posts will focus individually on each of our three baseball players and God's goodness at making their seasons remarkably significant.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

With Spring, Comes Baseball

With the start of spring, many minds instantly picture flowers blooming, warmer weather,and the beginning of longer days. For our family, the mental picture that comes to our minds is baseball. It's the season that means treking to the ball field on an almost nightly basis. It means our three year old has 'red clay' from Lyndon ball field in his hair for two months straight. It means that we will be eating a lot of PB&J picnic dinners on the bleachers. It means we will go to McCalister's Deli on a regular basis because all five of our kids can eat FREE (it also means that they'll know our family and our order by name by the end of the season!). It means I will be spending a lot of money on ring pops to keep the 'O Factor' happy. It means getting home past nine most nights, covered in dirt and sweat. It means washing and scrubbing baseball pants daily. It means my 6 year old, 8 year old and 12 year old will play pitch and catch non-stop out in the yard. It means that we will talk over and re-hash every game, play-by-play. We won't talk about anything else. We have a one track mind because it's baseball season.

...Listen closely--I can almost hear it, can't you? It's the music from 'The Rookie' playing in the background...

It’s opening day. Fresh, cut grass feels the air. Boys, young and old, dream about a winning season as they walk from the parking lots with their dads to their first game. With their baseball bags slung over their shoulders and sporting new uniforms, they can't help feeling proud. In fact, it's hard to suppress the grin welling up inside because of the sheer delight over the love they have for the sport. Suppress it, they do, however, because they envision their favorite major league player walking onto the field in all seriousness. Thus, they too must compose themselves tall and soberly. After all, one day, they too will be playing for the majors.

Everyone rises for the National Anthem. Baseball players are scattered throughout the many fields, saluting the flag respectively, with hats 0ff. A tear or too trickles down the cheek of more than one parent as they take in the scene before them. Something about the National Anthem and the 'All-American' sport of baseball, coupled with a boy in a uniform, makes one's emotions aroused.

The games begin. Dirt and dust from the in-field encompasses everything and everyone as boys hit the ball and round the bases. Shouts of 'hey, batter, batter!...' and 'Strike!' fill the air, along with some whoops and hollers from the spectators.

Hope is in the air because a new day has dawned. It's baseball season.

Not a fan, yet? Stay tuned to the next posts as I take you up-close and personal with our three favorite sluggers: Jeremiah, Wes and Joshua. Oh, you are going to become a fan--I just know it!


My kids, especially my boys, LOVE competing in sports--particularly baseball. I am usually so exhausted and ready for baseball to be over with by the time the middle of July rolls around. Yes, I was exhausted last weekend when our seasons came to an end, but I found myself sad that the end was here. You see, they all had very memorable and unforgettable seasons, each for different reasons. I am going to spend my next two blog entries attempting to capture the magic that we got to experience this year through our baseball seasons.

So, stay tuned... and if you don't like baseball I am going to try to win you over to it in the next couple of days!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Ultimate Gift...given by the ultimate lady

On June 27, 2010, the Lord called home Eric's grandmother, Margaret Polly. She was 84 years old. It was a bit surreal. You see, just a week prior we had attended the funeral of my grandmother. And now Eric's grandmother, too, was gone. Two grandmothers to pass away in two weeks seems almost too much to handle. It was and continues to be sad to no longer have them here, but it is also every bit of a celebration to know that these two ladies are with Jesus.

My prior post was a tribute to my grandmother, Mabel Winkler. This post is dedicated to Eric's grandmother, Margaret Polly, whom we all lovingly refer to as 'Mi'. Two days prior to her passing, Mi gave us the ultimate gift. She allowed all of her family members that were surrounding her to see the peace and comfort that she was experiencing as she began the 'passing on' process. Everyone who walked in their home that day undeniably felt the presence of God and saw Him radiating from her peaceful state. She talked of how she was seeing Jesus and she was ready to go to Him. It was beautiful and it was supernatural. It was the ultimate gift.

How I wish you could have known Mi. How I wish you could have experienced her funeral. You see, it was a celebration--a celebration of a life lived well, surrounded by a husband and family who loved her dearly. My sister in law, Heather, gave a beautiful eulogy depicting Mi's character that shown through even in her final hours. Eric wrote a eulogy, describing their years of growing up down the street from Mi and Gigi. They both did such a heart-felt, amazing job that I want to share their words with you:

"In 2 Phillipians 2:3 it says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourself.” That verse is a picture of who my grandmother was. We called her Mi, but she was the least “Me” centered person that I have ever known.

She always put others before herself. That is a hard trait to come by these days. Her whole life was a picture of grace and servanthood. I do not remember a time in my life when she was not there for me. Every memory I have of her is good. Going to her home and sitting at the kitchen table with her was a resting place for my heart and soul. She was my safe place. She was complete and total comfort to me.
If you would have told me last week that we would be here today I would have never believed that I could be standing before you with such joy and peace. But Jesus gave us an amazing precious time with her last week and He used Mi’s grace to show us Himself.

Continuing to put her family first, last Thursday she called my Grandfather “Gigi” and my mom into the room and told them that it was time for her to go. She knew it was going to be too hard for us to tell her it was okay for her to leave, so she did it for us. She told Gigi what a wonderful husband he was, and my Mom what a wonderful daughter she was and how she had a wonderful life. She told them how much she loved them. Throughout the day she would reach her hand up twinkle her fingers and she told them she was reaching for Jesus. Mom said, “What does he look like mother,” and she replied “He is wonderful.” Continuing to think of others first, she told Gig, “I can’t wait for you to meet him, but he is better looking than you.” She really said that.

For the rest of the day following she proceeded to tell everyone how much she loved them and how much they meant to her. She talked to so many people that day. Nothing was left unsaid. She even planned this event here today. She told them, we have planned a lot of celebrations in this family, but I guess this is the first time we have planned a celebration for a funeral. She laughed so hard that day. She was so full of peace and joy. Mom has called it “the incredible gift” all week. It was the ultimate gift.

Gigi and Mi had a beautiful love story that is such an example to all of us. You two got to live the dream that everyone wants. I can’t tell you how much we have learned from living our lives watching you two together. It is precious to me. You were married to your best friend. You laughed together and had so much fun. In fact last week I believe she told you she only had two secrets from you in the 65 years you were married, and she would tell you one of them! You served each other faithfully.

Mom, you were such a wonderful daughter to her. She was your best friend and you were hers. She was so proud of you. You were her treasure. Dad, you were every bit her son. She never gave you anything but praise to me. She told me so often what a wonderful father I have. Eric and Adam, she was so proud of the husbands and parents that you’ve become. She spoke often of how proud she was of you both.

I am so thankful that our children were able to know her and be loved by her. The babies, as she lovingly called them, were her joy and her delight. They will miss their Mi.

The Bible describes love so beautifully in the 13th chapter of Corinthians. As I read it through I discovered that it describes Mi as well, because you see Mi was patient, and she was kind, she did not envy, she did not boast, she was not proud, she was not rude, she was not self –seeking, she was not easily angered, and she kept no record of wrongs. She always protected, always trusted, always hoped, and she now perseveres.

I cannot express what a privilege it is to be Margaret Polly’s granddaughter. I have heard over and over this week what a lady she was. She lived her life so well and she was full of grace even in her death. She was a picture of Christ’s sacrificial love in every way."


"‘Mi’ is what we call her. Gigi were the words that came out for him. I guess when you’re the first grandson and you’re around your grandparents, toddler words come out and ‘Mi and Gigi’ were the ones that stuck. So from then on she was known as Mi. I’m writing about her because for those who know me best it doesn’t take a lot for me to tear up. So it probably wouldn’t make sense if I was up here.

So here we go….I would describe Mi best as a servant’s servant. She was always concerned about everybody besides herself. When we were celebrating Holidays, or at the lake it seemed like she never sat down. Always making sure we were taken care of. She never let us get up for seconds--she would be right there and re-fill our plates.

Growing up we also lived in Canterbury, so you know what that means….Mi and Gigi were right down the street. They had all the great food, little debbie’s, mini pizza’s from the Schwann’s truck, Coke’s, Sprite’s, everything that we didn’t have in our fridge. Instead, our refrigerator had Tab and Rice Cakes and occasionally, if we were lucky, chocolate jello that chilled overnight in the fridge (Heather probably remembers). So you can guess that I rode my bike and dropped in on Mi and Gigi’s and their refrigerator on a regular basis.

One of the reasons we moved from Nashville to Louisville is so my kids could have some of the same experiences I did growing up close to the Grandparents. Growing up with Mi and Gigi were some of the best times of my life.

Just the other day my 12 yr old Joshua was asking me about scholarships and college. First of all, I can’t believe he’s 12 and asking me those questions already. But I did what any Dad would do…I explained as best as I could. He asked me if I got a scholarship and of course I said I got several offers from all the big schools (not really), but decided to stay here and go to Murray State. He then proceeded to ask me how I got to go to college. I answered, “because of Mi and Gigi. They took care of everything.” He said, “Wow, that’s really awesome…and I said, “yeah, that’s the way they are.” Being a servant again….thinking of others.

In Proverbs 31:10-31 the scriptures talk about a good woman is hard to find and is worth far more than diamonds. She’s up before dawn preparing breakfast and planning her day. Her children respect and bless her…her husband joins in with words of praise. Many women have done wonderful things but you (Mi) have outclassed them all.

My wife and daughter did a bible study together called Proverbs 31 Princess. If Mi was in the bible study she would be considered the QUEEN of Proverbs 31.

Thursday was the last time that I got to see her. It was a beautiful day. The previous days she didn’t have a lot to say, but Thursday God brought her out and it was non-stop talking. Once again, she was concerned about me….my job, my family, and she asked about my van…do you like it? How does it drive etc…..once again….thinking of others. Not concerned about herself…..even in her last days which she knew were coming to a close.

You know that’s what Jesus did for us, he thought of us, sacrificed himself on a cross for our sins so we could have the opportunity to live with him in heaven. And as she stretched out both of her hands so confidently and ‘reached’ for Jesus, I pray that we will do the same. Reach for Jesus….draw close to him….and think of others first….Just like Mi did throughout her life and is doing right now next to Him."

***This picture is of Eric's grandparents, Mi and Gigi, celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary on May 9 of this year.***