The buses to the away games, the water bottles we shared, the uniforms. Growing up, I loved playing sports. All year round with the same girls, and our ever-increasing skills. After lost games, I had to pretend to be sadder than I really was. For me it was always more about the camaraderie and less about the season record. In the fall we played volleyball until our palms were red and our knees bruised. In the winter it was basketball, and I responded to everything about the game, especially how fast it was and how aggressive I could be. Then, come spring, we laced up our running shoes with the boys and played our one co-ed sport—chasing each other around a track until we literally fell over. Still today, I have scars with cinders in them. Finally, June rolled around and it was camps and clinics and summer leagues to stay in shape until the fall.
My involvement in sports started sometime around my fifth-grade year and continued until eventually I graduated from high school. Despite my best hopes, genetics would determine I stop growing somewhere in the ninth grade. So throughout high school, my 5'4" frame wasn’t getting a lot of action under anyone’s basket. I learned though, if I wanted to ever play basketball and more importantly, contribute, I was going to need to learn to develop an outside shot. So for many years I worked on my arc and accuracy until I could be the player people would pass to on the top of the key.
During a basketball tournament in high school over the Christmas holidays, our team was winning each bracket, until eventually we earned a spot in the final game. We played evenly against our competition throughout the entire four quarters, and found ourselves down by one with less than thirty seconds left on the game clock.
Coach Stan Kiehl called a time-out and looked at me. “Do you think if we get you the ball, you could pop one up from the outside before they have a chance to organize much of a defense? You think you can make it?”
I looked around the huddle and said, more confidently than I felt, “Yes, get it to me. I’ll do it, Coach.”
My friend Dawn dribbled down the court and passed me the ball, where I squared up, eyed the backboard, and threw up the shot.
It ringed around the rim . . . and then rolled out.
Seconds later, the buzzer went off and the game was over. We’d lost the tournament by one point.
I don’t remember much about the after-game speech our coach gave; what I most remember was not wanting to face the parents of my friends, who I knew would offer me looks of frustration or pity, or some combination. I took my time gathering my things and finally, when I was sure everyone was gone, I made my way out of the locker room to see who was waiting to take me home.
As I walked through the double doors into the gym, I saw my dad with a ball under his arm. He didn’t say anything, just looked me in the eye and bounced me the ball, pointing on the floor to where I had missed the shot. I caught the ball, and feeling frustrated (with him, the game, myself) I squared up and shot.
I rolled my eyes and held up two fingers, then reached down for my bag. I gave him the look teenage girls have perfected that sarcastically implied, Satisfied?
He rebounded my ball, ignored that look, and passed the ball to me again, pointing on the floor where I need to shoot.
I threw the ball up less accurately and still made the basket.
Catching the rebound, he passed me the ball a third time.
This went on for another four or five baskets until my quivering lip finally gave way to the crying that had been hovering underneath.
He rebounded the last ball and cocking his head, looked at me, not with frustration, but with tenderness.
What? I thought, confused. What is it that you want?
When he saw my face, he quickly came over and wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug.
Sighing, after a moment he pulled back to look me in the eye, “Honey, I just wanted you to go to bed tonight remembering what it is you are capable of.”
There are scores of verses I read that implore us to “sit in the heavenly realms” and “fix our eyes on Jesus” and “set our minds on things above,” and they are poetic and lyrical and mystical and beautiful. But applicable? What do those words even mean?
How do we experience God in the midst of our missed shots? Is it even possible that when he looks at us, he sees only what we are capable of and not the moments when we lose the game?
Beth Guckenberger (Back2Back Ministries)