Monday, September 27, 2010

Pennant races and MVPs, Part 2

The Texas Rangers won the American League West pennant Saturday in Oakland. Josh Hamilton, the sidelined MVP candidate who likely will come in second or third now, didn't join in the champagne- and beer-fueled celebration in the locker room. I applaud his decision.

There's no way it was easy for a baseball player to bypass the locker room and instead head to a church to share his faith. And had Hamilton not become an addict, he probably could have handled a celebration like that as well as any of his teammates. But he is in addict. A few days, months or years of sobriety don't change that.

Based on quotes he gave before and after the game, part of his motivation was perception. The pictures from his one-night relapse in early 2009 are still easy to find on the Internet. Unlike the pictures of Josh's jubilant teammates in the clubhouse celebration, the pictures of Josh in relapse aren't pretty. And for an addict to be amidst free-flowing booze and euphoria, that's likely where he would be headed.

It's dangerous enough for a recovering addict to be doing whatever he can, including some medication, if I understand correctly, to relieve the pain from his broken ribs and trying to rush his rehab. But bring in the exhilaration of a booze-filled celebration, coupled with what has to be frustration at not being a part of the stretch run, and you're just asking for big-time relapse.

As much as I like sports and I like "my team" to win, it means more to me to see the stories of perseverance and doing the right thing. I know all of the players and coaches and ownership are just people, not to be put on pedestals or anything. They're all human. But I like it when they make wise, healthy, uplifting decisions. I like it when their stories include winning in the game of life on and off the field. It's probably easier for some than others. And for whatever reason, at least one took some turns along the way that make it perhaps more of a challenge and at the same time more crucial to stay on the straight and narrow.

It's awesome from a sports perspective when the storybook season actually ends with the championship, but this one's already a winner. Even though the Rangers will end with a loss unless they win it all, they are winners. And Josh is a winner, even if he doesn't receive the MVP or make any spectacular plays in the post-season, as long as he keeps his focus on the One Whom he credits for his recovery, and that is his Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Trying to write my way out of a rut

I've fallen into a rut, and I do not like it, but I'm having a hard time getting out. I'm not sure I'm even trying. I tell myself I want out of the rut -- that I want things to change -- but I'm not really doing anything to make that happen. In fact, that's the essence of the rut: too much thinking and not enough action. So here I go again, writing about my thoughts instead of taking action!

Where to begin?
My dad has cancer. The tumor was found in a routine X-ray Aug. 11. After many tests, the cancer diagnosis came Sept. 9. So far, this experience seems amazingly positive: the family pulling together, witnessing the indomitable spirit of my dad and my mom, taking time to express our love and count our blessings. And truth be told, Daddy's not any closer to dying than he was before we knew he had cancer. That first X-ray wasn't a result of a cancer symptom; it was just a routine check. And aren't we all dying anyway? BUT -- the thing that seems to be true is that even though I know all of this and see so many blessings and so much to be grateful for, there is a deep inner part of me that is grieving, protesting, fighting the realities of aging and eventual loss. And the exhaustion makes its way to the surface.

My job. Circumstances seem to make it impossible to do good work with good results, and many people seem to have accepted that and just do what they can. I've not reached that point yet. For now, the process of trying to do the best I can and not worry about the results is exhausting. And, unfortunately, I carry it with me when I leave the office.

Personal life. What a mess I am. Messy purse. Messy house. Messy car. Messy desk. Disarray. Dust. Cat hair. And now ants! Missed opportunities. Lost treasures. Wasted moments. Lack of attention to important relationships. Easily distracted by football, baseball, television, the computer and even the newspaper.

My spirit is weary.

The positives outweigh the negatives by so much that I feel somewhat ashamed or embarrassed to even write about the negatives. But a constant that stays with me as I continue reading the Bible and praying to know and do God's will is that He seems to be calling me to write about this stuff. It may seem pointless and ineffective. But I think of the guy in the Bible who was told to wash himself seven times, and the ones who were told to march around Jericho a certain number of times, and even Noah building that ark. They probably thought those instructions seemed pretty pointless, too. But God rewarded their faith. And how did God know their faith? Through their obedience. And so I speak and express and write and "publish." I sing and sometimes upload songs on YouTube. I don't shy away from negative realities at work and in other areas of life, but I try to address them in search of solutions. And even as I do that, I try to let go and let God.

At the end of another day, I'm reminded that life is good. I hope to find words soon to share some of the specific things that happened today that reminded me of the goodness of life and the greatness of God. Until then, I'll leave it with a Scripture verse.

Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness."
Lamentations 3:22-23

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pennant races and MVPs

It's been fun to follow the Texas Rangers baseball team this season. I try not to get too wrapped up in following sports teams and players, because I know it is just a game and it really shouldn't affect my life one way or another whether my favorite teams win or lose. But I'd be lying if I said I don't like it a lot more when the Rangers, the Texas Aggies (all sports), the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Mavericks and now the Oklahoma City Thunder win than when they lose.

Along the way, I tend to latch onto favorite players, and right now my favorite player on the Rangers is Josh Hamilton. I became familiar with his story (great promise, a plunge into drug addiction, saved by the grace of God and somehow playing baseball at a high level again) shortly after he was acquired by the Rangers in early 2008. I've continued to follow it through highs (2008), not-so-highs (2009) and back to high form (this year). He was on pace for an MVP season until he injured his ribs making a spectacular catch to get an out on Sept. 4.

I guess baseball pennant races and Most Valuable Player awards have to come down to numbers, and if a player misses the last month of the season because he's injured (even if it was from a spectacular, all-out play), that has to diminish his value. Josh will probably win the American League batting title with his .361 average (plus he still has a .414 on-base percentage and .635 slugging percentage). but since his home runs, RBIs and hits are stuck on 31, 97 and 183, other players are pulling away.

But as much as I hate not getting to watch Josh play, his absence seems to have had some value for the Rangers in that some of the other players have finally stepped back up. Maybe they would have anyway, but they sure didn't seem to be. Before Josh's most recent injury, the team's record was much better with him playing than without. Since then, I doubt that's the case. But without the cushion he had helped them build, it's possible these recent games wouldn't have even had much meaning.

Anyway, the thing I see happening right now is that sports writers and fans commenting on articles and blogs are clamoring for Josh to hurry back, even though the Rangers are winning without him. The sentiment seems to be that if he wants to be MVP, he should muscle up and play through pain. But at what cost? Rush to come back to try to regain MVP numbers (an effort that will be more difficult if he's not ready to return) and risk further injury that could keep him out of postseason play?

And after all, it IS a team sport, isn't it?

Perhaps Josh's value to the Rangers is greater if he puts his health and full recovery above his chase for the award.

Regardless, whether the "I Am Second" (a Christ-focused evangelism program) man wins the MVP is in the hands of the true MVP: God.

Josh was second in the Home Run Derby in 2008, and God seemed to use that to God's glory. I think the same thing could happen with this MVP race. I hope Josh doesn't lose sight of what's most important -- the "game" of living for Christ. That may not be the most important thing for all people in sports or life, but my observation is that for people who have a testimony such as Josh's, it really must be the important thing. He's already discussed examples of struggles that have followed when he's lost sight of the higher purpose. I don't know what any of that means for whatever steps he'll take to get back into the game. I do know I'll be interested in seeing how this plays out.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sweet music of September: Back-to-school songs

I wanted to sleep until 9 this Saturday morning, but I awoke by 7:45, my mind racing. After getting up briefly, I petted the kitty at the edge of the bed, pulled up the covers and tried to settle back in to sleep. About 10 minutes later, I could tell I might as well get up. The mind would not relent.

The thoughts aren't worry, dread or fear; it's more like I'm incessantly trying to figure things out: How to share what's in my heart without boring or preaching. How to express my concerns without sounding like I'm worrying. How to know what is the right next thing to do in my home life, my relationships, my activities -- with family, friends, at work, church, in fellowship and at play. How to be part of the solution instead of the problem in all of these areas. How to reflect God's glory in all aspects of my life, including relationships and work.

These are the triggers to the most recent round of thoughts:
-- Realizing before I left work yesterday that I face three to four weeks in a row of my less-desirable work schedule, which includes tasks and circumstances I'm not as skilled at and comfortable in dealing with. I said aloud that I want to figure out how to approach this positively, confidently, productively and effectively.
-- Realizing I don't know how to express to my siblings some things I think they may be missing as our parents grow older and face health issues.

One of my biggest worries or fears is that I'll come across as too intense (my behavior was once described as offputting by a superviser at work), a know-it-all, a busybody or meddler. But I know that some of my most valuable lessons have come from finally listening to things I didn't want to hear. Others have come from watching people and learning from their experiences (in this case, seeing four close co-workers and two friends, all about my age, go through the death of a parent or spouse, sometimes unexpectedly and other times gradually, with varying amounts of suffering and angst). And one of the things I've learned is that I don't just assume I or others are "getting it." Sometimes the thing that should be obvious is obscure. I usually don't like it when people point out what I'm missing or any of my weaknesses, but most of the time I end up being grateful.

What does any of this have to do with "back-to-school songs"? Well, Mom posted on Facebook last night that she and Daddy went to the high school football game. I followed her post with lots of questions, ending with this one: "Don't you love having a kid who's a journalist, full of questions?" (This was after I had sent at least one question-filled e-mail earlier in the week.) Mom's response to the final question: "Questions are how we learn."

I believe that. Questions and discussion -- communication -- are a big part of how I learn. Experience is essential, too, but I learn so much about life and myself and others through conversation. I pray to continue to strive to not be overbearing or offputting but to also not be afraid to communicate, especially with family and friends. That is something I've learned since I've graduated from formal schooling. May I never quit learning in the school of life.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sweet music of September .....

As I turn the page to September
I'm grateful to take time to remember
Rich blessings of friendship, family and spirit.
Sweet music of life: To hear it! To share it!

I think I first wrote those words in a journal as October turned to November (yes, with November instead of September), possibly more than 15 years ago. They work well with all the "ember" months, with the November focus on gratitude, and December as a time of looking back and remembering as year's end approaches. But when it comes to richness, September seems to be the month. And this year is no exception.

Actually, I think I went through a period in which I didn't like September, because it marked the wind-down of summer and the onset of shorter days, less sunlight and colder temperatures. Maybe that changed when my nephew was playing college football and I looked forward to those games (and realized it was still pretty dang warm!). Anyway, I have renewed appreciation for the nature of September days.

But what I really appreciate is the richness of the September experiences. I think in some ways it starts with it being the month my parents got married. My parents were married Sept. 18, 1953; this year is their 57th anniversary. Their anniversary isn't always a big celebration, but it was twice -- for their 25th and 50th anniversaries. By the 50th, I was very aware that without them being together, and without their perseverance in staying together, my life would be much different. As I grow older, I continue to learn so much by watching them relate in their marriage and also as I gain insight into some of their choices and experiences along the way. Much of this awareness has come just by spending time with them, and that's what I did Sunday.

Saturday morning, Gene and I decided we would brave the Labor Day weekend traffic and drive from Norman to just south of the Red River that evening. The next day, Mom and Dad picked me up for church in Gainesville and then to spend the day with them, while Gene went fishing. In some ways, it's not all that different from when I still lived at home some 30 years ago, except then Mom usually fixed a roast for a Sunday dinner for a houseful of hungry kiddos, and now they go to a restaurant to eat. But reading the Dallas Morning News and Gainesville Daily Register are very much a part of the typical Sunday afternoon on the farm. I suppose in the olden days Daddy spent more of the afternoon outside, tending to one thing or another even on a Sunday. But he's 84, and though he probably doesn't think so, he's entitled to stay inside where the air conditioner is running. Now there's a cat in the house, too, which we didn't have when I was still at home. ...

I guess this ends up being Verse 1 of what could be a long September song. Although I need to quit writing for now and go do other things, I don't trust myself to come back to finish it today or even later this week, so I've got to post what I've written and just go on. I wonder if there's any writer in the world who is this unable to just sit down and follow through on what he or she wants to write. For the sake of other writers, I hope none do have this problem! I know what's happening -- a flood of thoughts and emotions related to life circumstances including me and my parents all growing older. I'm a writer, and I feel compelled to try to express the thoughts and observations and feelings in words. But I still get stuck in the struggle, and then the struggle is part of what I end up writing about. It seems to be part of a spiritual journey, but I truly hope it also leads to a written account of some important moments in life. Until then and always, my life is in God's hands. He's with me on this journey, and for that I'm grateful beyond words. And I'm grateful beyond words that I could take time this weekend to spend time with the most precious people in my life: my Mom and Dad and my husband, all of whom happen to have September anniversaries, by the way. (Gene's and my 28th was Saturday.)

Sweet music of life ..... the song continues ....