I remember a particular success of mine when I was in sixth grade. That was the year I’d reached my final adult height, and my muscle to fat ratio made me something of an athletic competitor. I’d proven my ability to bench press a boy in my class only one time, for less than three seconds, but the mouthy, little bully reacted the way Dad promised he would.
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t especially agile or quick to make tactical decisions. One demonstration of strength was enough to propel me to the top tier when team captains did their choosing for playground games over the next few weeks.
My game was bat ball. The best any of our parents could find for at-home play were cheap, plastic balls that came from a big cage at the grocery story—the same colorful balls a toddler would use to toss about in the living room. But schools had those big, red, rubber balls that bounced high, survived under pressure, and one could really get a grip on that textured rubber. Girls often competed more for a turn to dribble and control the ball than to win a silly game. Boys too, but they were usually better at getting the ball into the hands of the right player.
On this particular afternoon we (Franklin School fifth and sixth graders) are the visitors, up against Garfield. The last inning. Two outs. The score is tied. It’s my turn at bat. Outfielders follow the instruction of their coach and step forward, twice. My own team murmurs about me. The bully calls out a name to the coach, begging for a change of the roster. My team supports him by calling out the names of their choice players. “Greg!” “Mike!” “Steve!” “David!”
I hear them thinking, “Anybody but Rita.”
“That’s against the rules,” our coach repeated.
I gave him a look in favor of breaking the roster and rules. Teamwork was important to me and I loved my school. He nods and signals for me to ignore the rumble and bat the ball.
A deep breath, and a turn to look at my classmates. I stare into the eyes of a boy two inches shorter and fifteen pounds lighter … the bully. The opposing team had all but gone home in their thoughts. I consider what the coach had taught about finding the opponent’s weakest spot. There’s a tingle in my toes. This is what the coach was talking about.
“Strength is in more places that your biceps,” he’d said.
From a tingle to a twinge and flex in my calves, the sensation rises up through my thighs into my core. My left shoulder puffs as I balance the ball on my palm. My right hand and fingers volunteer a fist full of power from a stack of athletic not-good-enoughs. All I have to do is hit this red, rubber ball as hard as I can.
I did it. Jumping and screaming like I’ve never seen or heard over anything I’d ever done almost makes me weak. A teammate pushes off second base. Louder screaming. “Run! Run!” I’m running as fast as my short legs allow. I run too fast to see him, but I know the coach is watching. The sound of that red ball bouncing back toward the infield threatens to steal my joy. Did someone fumble? I want to look and see, but I know that will slow me. I could even stumble. I can’t do two things at once. I choose to run. Faster.
A two-run homer. Franklin wins!
So why is it that several of my friends shunned me after the principal stepped into our classroom the next day to congratulate us on our win?
Mom knew. “Misery loves company,” she says.
“But we won. Because of me, we won.”
“The other kids are jealous because you have something they don’t have,” she says.
“But we all won the game. I only got the last run.”
“And Mr. Ruth gave you the game ball.” she says. “Does he do that after every game?”
“I don’t think so.”
“So none of the other kids have game balls?” she asks.
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you brag about it?” Mom says. “The other kids played just as hard as you, but they didn’t get the game ball. Did you brag?”
I drop my head. “Maybe a little. But it was a home run.”
“Were you holding the ball when you bragged?”
“Did the other girls ask to play with the ball?”
My athletic career peaked with that two-run homer, and ended the very next day when it felt as though all my friends had deserted me.
Mom made sure to throw that ball out onto the lawn and encouraged me to invite neighborhood kids to come play. To get me out of her hair? Or to watch and see if I would put friendship over an object and a game?
The school year ended shortly after that game, and I hadn’t recovered all of my sixth-grade friends. The few who lived close enough to walk to our yard for a game of bat ball accepted my invitation. We knew the game wouldn’t be played in an official capacity once we got to junior high school, so we made the most of our summer.
By August, the ball’s surface was slick from overuse and repeated re-inflations. By September, it was no longer my treasured possession.
Mom was right, again “You can’t leave things out in the yard overnight and expect them to be there in the morning.”
Our family moved across town before my seventh-grade year, and I went to a middle school where I had to make new friends. The child’s play changed. Bat ball was a game for grade-schoolers, and I dared not brag about my two-run homer for fear of undeliverable expectations on the softball field.
That red, rubber ball taught me things about living in community that I carried with me into seventh grade. Then into high school. In my career. And with my family and church family. But living in community hasn’t gotten easier. I find it hard sometimes. So hard that I’ve imagined going back to grade school and the playgrounds of my childhood.
If I’ve “put away my childish things” (1Cor 13:11), why am I still asking these questions?
- Where is my strength when I need to face a bully?
- When does my exuberance turn into bragging?
- Why is damage control not just for my failures, but also after a success?
- What do we do when one member’s weakness affects the entire team? What about one member’s success?
- Are we avoiding vital truths to maintain our rank and comfort?
- Are we sharing our “toys?”
- For what goal are we willing to run and not look back?
Hey girls! We’re the ones with answers to these questions. We’re the coaches now, me in my community, and you in yours.
Our world’s in trouble. We heard many of the specifics at Priority 2022, both in the main sessions and in the breakouts. Not child’s play, but real trouble. Some of that trouble is on other continents and some of it in our own neighborhoods, churches and homes. But we also heard from women (and a few men) about a courage and strength made available to us by our Father and God.
Like me, your heart was full after Priority. Yet in the weeks since, many of us have already experienced that feeling of standing alone—in the middle of a mess of trouble. The insults of the opposition are loud and persistent. Coming together in one place, worshiping God with one voice, is always an amazing experience. Then we go home to reminders that this isn’t child’s play.
“Brothers, [and sisters] I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14 ESV)
You aren’t alone.
You’re team hasn’t deserted you.
Reconnect with someone you met at Priority or someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Invite them for an afternoon on your playground. Look and listen. Your teammates are behind you, jumping and yelling, “Run! Run!”
Written by Rita Klundt.
Author and speaker, Rita Klundt’s, all-time favorite read is a true and transparent story with an only-God-could’ve-done-that ending. If something happens, good, tragic or funny, Klundt encourages women, not only to tell it, but to write it. Her memoir, “Goliath’s Mountain,” is a poignant and tragic love story that deals with mental illness and suicide. Klundt compiled and published stories from other Christian women, all with ties to Illinois. That award winning book, “Real Life. Real Ladies: Short Stories from the Pew” is about to become the first in a series. Rita and her husband live in Pekin, Illinois. You can find her online on her website and on Facebook.
Thank you, Rita!
And now for our winners from last Monday's Welcome post... Ailee Taylor budandnancy1 Donna Elaine Jeannette Laury Pam Bogard Sarah E L Brown Tzigane Yvonne Blake Ladies, please email me at Patty4prioritynow@gmail.com so we can send you your gift cards. Thank you to ALL of you who commented! And thank you to those of you who visited but didn't let us know. Each one of you is an answer to prayer.