My dad and my uncle coached my softball team when I was a little girl, and I have a lot of great memories of that time. Most of them revolve around us girls decorating our baseballs caps and not being out on the field, but I also remember laughing as my dad knocked pop flies to us in the outfield, or the focus we tried to fake at the batting cages. Most of the time we were just eight-year-old girls doing our best, and my dad always acknowledged that fact while also encouraging us to work hard and improve.
Recently my uncle came to watch my son play in one of his first tee-ball games, and we sat in the grass laughing about the way the boys came running from every corner of the field to fight over a ground ball, or the way they swung the bat like a tomahawk. We reminisced about our Purple Panthers, and he told me that he and my dad had quickly decided to abandon the idea of having a “well rounded” team, and focus on our ability to hit the ball instead.
I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it made perfect sense. We ended up being pretty successful in the league because each of us could knock the ball into the outfield, and almost no one our age was capable of fielding a fly ball. We scored a lot of runs, and eventually made it to the ‘championship’ game, which was scheduled to be held on my birthday. I was less than thrilled.
As is so often the case, it ended up being one of my favorite memories with my dad. The other team was slightly older than us, and the girls weren’t afraid of the ball like many of the other teams we’d faced. We were pretty evenly matched, and by the bottom of the ninth inning, our Purple Panthers were behind by two runs. I came up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. My uncle stood at third base, my dad at first, both clapping and cheering me on. My teammates chanted from the dugout. In my mind it plays like a movie rather than a memory.
I swung hard at the first pitch and missed. The adrenaline was making me jittery, but I catch my dad’s eye and he held my gaze for a moment, and then said, “Just watch the ball.” That was the thing they had drilled into our little brains for most of the season: “If you watch the ball, you can’t miss. Just watch the ball.” I nodded, and turned back to face the pitcher’s mound.
I don’t really remember swinging the bat, but I remember the way my hands felt when it hit the ball. I don’t really remember running the bases, but I remember the look on my uncle’s face as he swung his arm wildly in a circle, motioning for all of us to continue on to home plate. I don’t remember my feet hitting the ground as I ran from third to home, but I remember my dad standing there at the plate, surrounded by my teammates, arms wide as I ran to him; I remember him lifting me into the air and shouting, “You did it!” I remember feeling like a hero.
But here’s the lesson I just recently learned from my dad – it’s been over a year since I lost him, and he’s still teaching me things – the lesson I can only grasp now that I’m an adult and a parent: the success of that moment belonged to him, but he gave it to me without hesitation. He was the one who sacrificed the time to teach us, the one who exercised ridiculous amounts of patience while we learned, the one who built us into softball players and into a team. And yet, in the end, he was truly delighted to make me the hero.
I’ve met a precious few others who have this particular gifting: the power to build something and then hand it off to another person to steward and continue building. And sometimes I wonder if that isn’t the closest to Christ-like we can become. I mean, look at what Jesus did with the church: he founded it, inspired it, breathed life into it, and then handed it off to his followers. And then celebrated them, spoke confidently over them as leaders and healers and teachers and friends, and trusted them with the rest of the work.
That kind of behavior doesn’t come naturally to me. I tend to jealously guard the things I create and build, and I wonder sometimes if I am not missing out on a whole facet of community because of this. If my father and my Teacher both modeled this behavior, shouldn’t it be something I am trying to emulate? Doesn’t it call forth the best in me and the best in those around me if we are all willing to trust each other as stewards, and also rise to that calling ourselves?
Do you have a story like this, where you were either celebrated as a steward or handed over the heroism to another? Let me know in the comments!