Let me first say that while I address this note specifically to SI, it is applicable to all of you, my children. There are lessons in each of these letters that each of you can apply in your own life, regardless of who I am specifically addressing. I chose to address SI for this one, simply because basketball is on my mind lately…
Yesterday was the final game day for the third season of Upward Basketball & Cheerleading at church. Eight weeks of games, preceded by 3 weeks of practices and another 5 months of planning, preparation and work to lay the groundwork for a sports league that would minister to over 500 children and their families. Eight months of basketball tends to mean that basketball is on my mind a lot, especially during the season.
SI, although you’re not yet two years old, I’m starting to see in you a God-given ability. A talent. A skill. A gift. I will sit here now and predict that you’ll be a natural athlete. You’re built like a stud and have a strength like no other twenty-one month old child I’ve ever seen. You’re all muscle and meat. I’ve watched you pick up and move items that others almost twice your age struggle with. You love to come underneath me while I’m standing and stick your head between my legs. With your arms wrapped around my legs, your shoulders are in the back of my legs and you push. You push with such strength and determination that you have knocked me off balance several times. At 21 months of age, you’ve knocked a 37 year old man off balance, simply in your strength and determination to do so. We walk around the house like that, you and I. You pushing me like you’re giving ME a piggy-back ride around the house. Sure, I could stand there and not walk with you, and you would only be leaning into me trying to push me. But what fun is that? Truth be told, I love it. It’s our thing right now…you giving me piggy-back rides. Tank. Your newest nickname is now Tank. Not sure if it will ever stick, but for now you are either Bubba or Tank. I wonder if we’ll ever call you by your given name.
And it’s not just me. Friends and family have commented on how well-built you are. You’re heavy for your age…not overweight…heavy. Like I said, all muscle. If memory serves me correctly, your last checkup at the doctor was at the same time as NE. He’s two years older than you, and you weighed only 6 pounds less than him. I can’t tell you how many friends from church have told me how strong you are, and that your new nickname fits you well. It was those friends who started confirming for me the athletic gift I started to see in you myself.
“Ball.” If we put you in a room with two toys, a ball and any other toy in the world, you will almost always go straight to the ball. It doesn’t matter if it’s a baseball, football, golf ball, soccer ball, basketball, tennis ball, or hackey sack. Ninety nine percent of the time, you will go for the ball. I love playing catch with you…unless we’re playing catch with a golf ball in the house…you’re dangerous at close quarters catch with a hard ball. 🙂
I haven’t personally seen this, but I’m told that in the nursery at church or at preschool, there is a shelf about six feet off the ground with bins of toys. There are several Styrofoam balls from which to choose, and you generally walk in and go straight to that shelf and stand there pointing up at the toys saying, “Baw. Baw. Baw.” over and over again until someone comes over to get you the ball. You then step back and start throwing. And you keep throwing until you get the ball back into one of those bins, at which point you stand there pointing up saying, “Baw. Baw. Baw.” over and over again until someone gets you the ball again. And so the cycle repeats. I’m told that there are days you spend hours doing this. They say your arm motion and follow through is spot-on for the proper form for shooting a basketball. I’ve seen it on occasion at the house, although we don’t really have anything set up at the house to help develop this skill. That will soon change, and we will work to encourage you and help to develop this God-given gift.
While it is my prayer that I get to see you grow into a man and spend many years with you into your forties and beyond, when God takes me home is not up to me. I started this series of letters to you all for a reason…with a purpose…that you would have some encouragement and wisdom from me should I be taken from this life before you’re ready…before I’ve imparted to you all the knowledge I would have you know to prepare you for adulthood and life outside the walls and security of our home, on your own. Let me first remind you that regardless of whether or not you ever become an athlete, or are able to use this gift I see in you at this young age for God or not…I am proud of you, and I love you. Not because of what you do, but because of who you are. There is nothing you could ever do to win or lose my love. So, with that…
Michael Jordan. By the time you’re old enough to read this and apply it, you’ll need to Google him to see who he is. I’ve never cared much for basketball. Never cared to watch it or follow it. March Madness to me is just another month. I can sleep to a basketball game on the tube as easily as if I were watching golf. I’ll say this about Michael Jordan, though. I liked watching him play. He changed the sport. He was unarguably among the best players of my generation and quite possibly among the best of all time. He changed the game. He made basketball look easy.
I saw a commercial today with Michael Jordan, and it’s what inspired me to write this to you today. I want you to know that regardless of any natural ability or God-given gift you’ve been blessed with, to be the best at anything takes work. No amount of natural ability alone will ever be enough to take you to the top of the class or the top of your career. To be the best at what you do, regardless of what it is, takes work. It takes practice…lots and lots of practice. It takes sweat, pain, blood, tears, drive, commitment to work at it even when you don’t really want to. It takes sacrifice. Excellence always requires a sacrifice. There will be days you want to play. Days you want to sleep in. Afternoons you’d rather nap. Nights you’d rather eat junk food instead of healthy. Days you would rather hang out with friends than practice. Excellence requires sacrifice.
Excuses never lead to success. Failure leads to success. In your failures, you will learn. In your failures, you will overcome. It’s when you fail that you grow and improve. You persevere through your failures. Our mistakes help to shape our future. I’ve been asked many times over the years, “if you could go back in time and change one thing…right one wrong…do one thing differently, what would it be?” My answer has always been, “nothing.” Who I am today, in all my good and bad is because of the mistakes I’ve made and the failures I’ve overcome. Having the option to go back and change something takes away the life lesson and learning experience obtained through that failure.
I’m adding the video here so you can watch it. Before you do, though, watch some of Michael Jordan’s highlights. Research him and learn about him as a player and what he did to change the game. See for yourself how he changed the game. It’s only after you do that that you’ll understand the purpose and meaning of this video…and the purpose of this note to you.
If you desire to be the best at what you do, prepare yourself for the sacrifice it will take. And when you do, ground yourself in the Lord. Stay close to His word and don’t forget that it’s not about you. Use what you’ve been given for His glory…to reach others for the Kingdom of Christ. Don’t forget who you are. You’re a child of God. Don’t forget what and who are important to you. Don’t work so hard at something that you sacrifice the love of those closest to you. Don’t make your passion to be the best your “idol.” God always comes first, because God is still God, and God is still good. He’s the Creator of the universe and the Giver of your life. What He gives, He also takes away. Don’t lose sight of the grace He showed others through His sacrifice on the cross. Seek to show others that same grace…in all that you do. And then, go for it! Be the best you can be…in all that you do. Be a Tank for Christ!