Pigskins and Prayer Time

Pigskins and Prayer timeI am a football fan.  I am.  Not in a crazy, overly fanatic, I-know-all-the-stats-and-history-of-the-game kind of way….but I do enjoy the game. This phenomenon is probably good fodder for the whole nature versus nurture argument.  I was raised in West/Central Texas in the era of Friday Night Lights. Yes, my friends, the movie and television show are pretty accurate in their depiction of that culture.  The high school I attended (shout out to my Central High School peeps) was a huge rival of Odessa Permian (the FNL team, for those of you who may not know), and I was there in their Time of Greatness.  I’m talking football game attendance of 50,000+….for high school….in towns that only have a population of 80,000-90,000.  It’s about 90 miles from San Angelo to Odessa, and when we travelled to away games the road was peppered with orange and blue balloons tied onto stakes placed in the ground at 1-2 mile intervals.  No joke.  Can you even imagine how long it took the parents to make that drive?  That’s some dedication.

When the movie Friday Night Lights came out, Gregg and I saw it in the theater.  When it was over, and he was asking my opinion of it, I pointed out that while I enjoyed the movie a lot (and I really did), it was not historically accurate.  Odessa Permian lost in the quarter finals that year…they went on to win State the following year.  He looked at me, perplexed, and asked, “Who are you?  How do you even know that?”.  Bobcat football, my dear.  It’s a powerful thing.  In spite of my heritage as  first generation Texan (and first generation American on my mother’s side), the power of the Football Belt rings true.  Plus, I paid a lot of attention to this sport during high school.  I really liked dating the cute boys who populated the field……

Despite my enthusiasm for football (and its players), neither my husband nor myself were thrilled when Luke began expressing a desire to play this game.  I also happen to work with injuries for a living, and Gregg had a very short, very painful football carrier (it ended with the shattering and pinning back together of his left arm).  To say we were hesitant about this choice is an understatement.

Being good parents and not wanting to squash our child’s athletic dreams, we did what any mature, loving set of parents would do.  We started making up rules.  Not a chance before you turn ten.  You have to complete certain physical requirements ( we created a whole workout and checklist with fitness goals and everything – yes, I know we’re crazy).  You have to play a season of flag and stick with it.  Mandatory attendance at both summer football camps (relax, they were only two hours in the evening for a week each).  Every time we thought we’d worn him down, he persevered.  It was actually pretty amazing.  He’s only ten years old.  Think of what this tenacity means for the future!

Sorry, I digress.  Back to football.

It came time to sign up for the fall tackle season, and we had to relent.  With more than a little trepidation (and really long conversations with the head coach, assistant coaches, friends whose kids played and the Man upstairs), we signed him up to play.  I must admit, by this time I was much calmer.  I think I’ve mentioned Luke’s stature before.  Here he is (the one in the black shirt)….

He’s standing by two of his teammates….and they are average-sized kids.  He looks like this next to 90% of the other players on any given team.  The other 10%, he towers over by just half a helmet.  There’s a kind of security to watching this game when your kid is the biggest one on the field.

And he loves it.  I mean, really loves it.  The child has found his sport….and he comes alive when he is out there.  Thank goodness.  Can you imagine if I had to spend this much time and energy watching him golf?

This past Saturday was our first game.  We had some scrimmages, and I had gotten to see him in action, but Saturday was when the season began.  So, of course, we were scheduled to play last year’s division champion team.  All of the kids and coaches were a bundle of nerves.  I won’t even attempt to describe the tension pulsing off of the parents.  It’s not even about the game itself, or the competition….not really.  It’s about wanting your child to have fun and feel joy and experience success.  I know that sounds crazy, but…that’s parenting, right?

The game was a nail biter.  Both teams are talented and tough and well-coached.  Both teams had impressive plays and costly mistakes.  Going into the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, we were tied 6-6, and they had the ball, first down, on their ten yard line.  I was pacing and cheering and praying….I couldn’t sit still, or stay under the canopy we had to protect is from the 122 degree heat.  Luke was playing defensive end.  The ball was snapped, hand-off was faked, and the quarterback held on to the ball as he ran behind his two lead blockers.  All of a sudden, Luke came flying up the side.  He shoved the tight end out of his way, barreled through the full back and tail back (splitting their block) and hit the quarterback, taking him down behind the line of scrimmage.  It was beautiful.  The sidelines erupted, grown men jumping and yelling, players stomping….and no one was louder than Luke’s dad.  I turned, stunned into silence and immobility (which is saying a lot) as before my eyes, my Type B, laid back, always put together and generally reserved husband completely lost his mind.  I watched, transfixed, as he transformed into a jumping, screaming, arms wildly waving lunatic running along the sidelines.  I really expected him to take flight at some point, he was leaping so high, yelling, “Yeah!  Yeah!  That’s my boy!”.

He turned and caught my eye, and before I could move shouted, “Did you see that?  Did you see that play?  That’s it!  That’s exactly what we teach defensive ends to do!!  That right there!”  At junctures, he was actually pounding his chest with a fist.  It was fascinating.  He continued, oblivious to my shocked expression, “Tight end? Bam (making a shoving down motion with his hands)!  Full back?  Bam!  Tail back?  Bam!”  His euphoria knew no bounds.  I can honestly say, it is one of my favorite mental images of him now.

Luke was heading back to the line of scrimmage for the next play, a bounce in his step after the hoopla and helmet-slapping of his coaches and teammates.  I could feel his smile, shining through like the sun, reaching out from behind his helmet.  He went on to make another big play, helping to put us into overtime, and then yet another huge block after that.  We won in overtime, and I don’t know that I can accurately do justice to the images of us as parents doling out high fives and hugs as we rejoiced.

I may not survive the season.

As I laid on the couch later that afternoon – dehydrated, hoarse, exhausted and exhilarated….I kept replaying the game and its highlights in my head.  I couldn’t help but picture Gregg over and over again, as he vaulted through the air, cheering.

And I had a thought…..

Is this how Heaven looks when we get it right?  Does God illuminate His kingdom with the brilliance of a proud father’s smile as He gives a fist pump or two?  I can only imagine His joy when we read the playbook He so graciously gave us, and then successfully put His word into practice.  When life brings up obstacles and blocks our way…and we find the strength and courage to knock those things aside, does He take to the air with a resounding “Yes!”?  Does He recount the play-by-play with pride?
Anxiety?  Bam!
Relational stress?  Bam!
Depression?  Financial worry?  Insecurity?  Bam!  Bam!  Bam!
I smile at the thought of my heavenly Father saying, “That’s my kid!” on the occasions we let nothing detour us as we charge forward to tackle the challenge or goal that is our destination.

How He must delight in our smiles and sense of accomplishment as we dust ourselves off and jog with renewed vigor to rejoin the game known as life, continuing on after our moment of success.  We may screw up the next play, but that’s okay.  Our moment in the sun is there for us to remember, providing encouragement and inspiration.

We need to be sure and hang on to that.

Solidarity, sisters.  It’s all about how you play the game.

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