The Last Game….

That was hard.

 

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Our final weekend of youth hockey. Our final weekend of loading everyone up, with all his gear, and trundling off to the ice rink. Steve and I knew this would be tough, that it was the first of the big “lasts” of this year.

 

And it was tough. We won three games and came to the Championship so excited about how the weekend had gone, and yet feeling the weight of this last game. This final game ended up not only in a loss, but in a sour loss. Bad calls, missed moments. The loss shadowed the three victories.

 

So this morning I watch my boy walking around with his head hanging a bit, with a sorrow in his voice. I know, it’s just sports…but, well, it isn’t.

 

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Somewhere around 700 hours at the rink, more than 300 games played. Steve and I were either sitting on cold bleachers or one of us watching via Periscope. Every game.

 

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Stinky gear. Moments of frustration and tossing gear at the truck more than in the back. Moments of shouted anger and shouted delight. Our truck has 230,000 miles, and a great number of them could be allotted to hockey transport. This game about a little rubber puck, a stick and some skates has set a rhythm to our lives for nearly ten years.

 

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We have learned the great delight of cheering for our boy. We have learned the companionship of standing in the stands, or in the freezing cold, with other parents and making ourselves look foolish as we gasp and cheer and shout and moan.

 

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We have watched a child learn to skate. Learn to handle a puck. Learn to shoot. Learn to defend. Learn to skate faster. Learn to hit. Learn to take a hit. Learn to shoot harder. Learn to skate even faster. Backward. Learn to take a deep breath and defend against guys much bigger…but not back down. Learn to take responsibility for his role on the team. Learn the discipline of showing up to practice when it is fun, and when it is not. Learning the meaning of skating suicides.

 

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Learning to value something so much that when it ends sourly it makes you want to cry. Or punch something. We have watched a little boy grow and mature with the help of just a game. With the help of coaches who cared and teammates who pushed him. That is quite a foundation to leap from high school to the next adventure…quite a lot a little rubber puck and a stick can accomplish.

 

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So, Zach.  Today, be mad enough to punch something. Preferably inanimate. Be sad enough, and disappointed enough, to cry, even if you have to do that in the shower. Be glad that you had something for all your youth to care enough about that it sparks deep emotions.

 

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Experience those emotions. Don’t ignore them. They are part of the best of this story.  Today that loss is heavy. You feel the responsibility as part of the team, and the sourness for the things out of your control which were unfair. There is nothing easy about leaving on a loss.

 

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But Know This: Your dad and I loved watching you skate. We loved watching you do something you loved. It brought us great delight. Know that that delight is just a glimpse of the delight of God in you as you walk and move and become the man He has created you to be from before we knew you.

 

Know this, that  we have watched every game you played, and we never got bored. We were as excited when the puck dropped last night as we were when you stumbled on the ice the first time. Last night was as fresh and engaging as your very first game…and we feel the loss with you.

 

 

Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow remember the wins. Tomorrow take the time to relish all the joy this sport has brought you. Tomorrow think about how you played your best games this last weekend, with probably your best game ever that very last game. You went out playing hard and with all you had.

 

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Tomorrow think about how you can appreciate watching a game in a completely different way because you know the feeling of the ice beneath your skates.

 

Tomorrow think of all the folks who came to watch you play, who cheered you do something you loved.

 

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And now is that moment when I get to use my favorite Frederick Buechner quotation once again:

 

“There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Frederick Buechner

 

And this…the ubiquitous quotation usually attributed to Dr Suess (even though it’s not really for sure he said it, but it sure fits!)

 

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –

Dr Suess or someone much like him.

 

 

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Well done 74.

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Get in over your head….lessons from a hockey tournament

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? -T.S. Eliot

 

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I remember the very fist tryout. Zach was 9 years old and had just learned to skate. He did not know how to stop, or how to skate backwards. He barely knew how to stay upright.

 

We had told him he had to stick with it for the season if he signed up. He couldn’t quit in the middle. That very first tryout he was practically in tears when he realized the work involved, and when he compared himself to other kids who had been skating for years.

 

He stuck with it.

 

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His skating improved, and his joy came right along as well. He had to work hard to catch up with the other kids, and by the end of the season he was the most improved player on the team.

 

His team also won the championship that year.

 

 

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The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats. – Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

We just returned from the first tournament of his Senior year. The siblings loaded up in the truck and we made our way to Chicago. Arriving at 3:30am.

 

There were a bit of nerves involved in this preliminary tournament. Zach’s team had played a couple games locally…friendly games just to get a feel for the team dynamic. This, however, was a tournament up North. We love our hockey in Nashville, but we area also aware that our kids don’t grow up skating on outdoor ponds. The competition up North is always tougher.

 

And this was our first tournament of the season.

 

We lost the first game, 3-6.

 

The next day we lost the second game. 1-4.

 

Just a few hours later, back to the rink.

 

We lost. 0-3.

 

Three games, three losses.

 

Now, in at least one of those games our boys played pretty badly. They couldn’t pass well. They weren’t hitting. They were basically a bit timid and thrown off their game.

 

Sunday was the consolation game. Deciding who was 5th and who was 6th in the tournament. Who was the loser and who was the not-quite-losingest-loser.

 

We won. The boys played more like a team, and more like themselves. The game was still very tight, but we won 2-1.

 

We cheered and shouted and encouraged and told the refs they didn’t know what they were doing. (They never do, and we always know). We cheered as loudly as we had at the first game. The boys were all grins on the way out.

 

We could have played a tournament that didn’t demand so much travel and that we knew we could win. There are a lot of teams these boys could beat. Instead we went to Chicago and faced really talented, tough teams. Fast teams. There was discouragement after losing three games in two days.

 

What was the point?

 

Our coaches are wise.  They put us up against boys who challenged us and exposed our weaknesses. They made us fall apart a bit, they brought out emotions. We were sloppy and confused part of the time. Eventually, though, things began to gel a little more as a team and they won.

 

We were not the losingest losers.

 

 

Now, we have another tournament in a month in Northern Indiana. The competition will still be very tough. But we are a little wiser after this weekend. The coaches saw the weaknesses, and hopefully the kids saw their own weaknesses as well. We know more what to work on, and hopefully the next tournament will have more wins than losses.

 

Did you catch that quote at the top of the page? I’ll repeat it:

 

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are? -T.S. Eliot

 

I really like that.

 

Sometimes, we need to be in a place where we are beyond our measure. Where we might be able to see our strengths pushed beyond what we expect. We might see ourselves do things we didn’t think we could do.

 

Life will provide us with ample opportunities to feel completely over our heads. I often find myself feeling inadequate. There are two reasons that is a really good thing…

 

First, we are forced to push ourselves. We are forced to think things through, to find solutions, to motivate and challenge ourselves.

 

Second, we find that God is truly made perfect in our weakness. We are reminded that even when we push through, even when we pull up all our talents and skills and strengths….there are things that will happen that simply leave us unequal to the task.

 

I can find my rocks to conquer, and they can bring me joy and confidence. Then the next moment I can find that I do not love well. There is a balance in this walk of faith between the strengths with which we have been gifted, and the work of God in our lives. The intersection of our struggles…physically and emotionally and spiritually…draw out our character, and give the room for a Creator God to continue his work in making us more than we could imagine.

 

Sometimes, because of insecurity or fear or embarrassment…or just plain weariness…we avoid situations that might be challenging. We don’t go to the retreat with all the men or women who may just have it far more together than ourselves. We don’t initiate that friendship with someone who is a bit different than ourselves because we aren’t sure how to engage. We don’t jump at the opportunity to do something really amazing because we are afraid of the outcome.

 

What if we went for it? What if we took on the tougher competition, the uncomfortable situation…what if we swallowed our fear or insecurity and trusted that God is at work for our good. What if when we did that we were able to love better, to understand more deeply and to see God work in ways we couldn’t have imagined?

 

Don’t be afraid of the tough situations. Even if the tough situation is as simple as figuring out how to get through the day and not be swallowed by stress and anxiety. Face them. Know they will expose your weakness some…but take that and allow God to be present in your weakness. He will show up.

 

You might walk out with joy at your hard work, with confidence for the next situation and not being the losingest-loser. (Sorry, but that really cracked me up this weekend).

 

I’m hopeful the next tournament has more wins than losses…but I’m more hopeful that these boys’ character is being formed. They are playing with heart even after three losses in a row. I hope they remember that when life gets difficult, and they don’t shirk from what will make them better.

 

In the meantime…I’ll keep shouting encouragement and cheering and yelling at the refs. One more season of this boy playing hockey…I bet I’ll learn another thing or two watching him.

 

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