The Thrill of Victory and The Agony of Defeat

It seems that most things in life come in pairs like good and bad, light and darkness, delight and disappointment, pain and pleasure, etc. God gave us the ability to dream and I am fairly certain that I rank very high on the list of all time dreamers. Joseph in the bible was a dreamer but his dreams came true. Most of my dream have not materialized and some have become nightmares. Why does God give us the ability to dream such big dreams and then too little ability to make them come true. I was reading Charles Allen’s book, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE THROUGH PRAYER when these thoughts occurred to me and I began thinking about my boyhood days back in Limestone County. Very few people are going to believe this story but I can assure you it is true. I never had a basketball that was actually inflatable but I could sit them by the heater and they would bounce for a short time. I didn’t really mind because it make my bank shot more proficient and I could also palm the ball which enabled me to dunk. I built my own back board and had an old rusty rim with a toe sack net. It was not regulation height, more like 9 feet, probably a little less, and I had a flood light mounted on the top of the tractor shed. I played late into the night many times and yes, I was playing solitaire but that was my game. I was living in a dream world where I scored the winning basket at the buzzer every game. I was the go to guy and also the P.A. announcer, I could do both. No one in my family had ever aspired to be an athlete, at least not to my knowledge. My brothers like cars and girls and as soon as they got a car, they were chasing girls. Later in life they would become golfers and both better at golf than myself but they never played baseball, basketball or football. I tried to do it all but wasn’t that gifted at any of the three. I guess baseball would have been my best sport but that never panned out either. My junior high career in the county system went OK but that was due to lack of competition. Most of the teams I played on didn’t win a game.
 
I did dream of being an athlete and I worked hard. Before my high school days were over, I had dropped basketball. I was not allowed to go out for track and I got cut from the American Legion Baseball Team my senior year. Athens did not have a baseball team in the 1960’s. My football career was a disaster, a train wreck. Had I stayed in the county where I belongs, I would have played a lot my junior and senior year but at Athens, I played maybe 16 plays my entire three years. I have my theory about things but it is irrelevant to the story. I would have played in the county but I was no star by any stretch of the imagination. This idea that a kid can be anything he sits his mind to is bologna. I tried hard, very hard and I did things that no other kid would do, like walk home from practice [7 miles] and stay in town all day without eating. Needless to say, my childhood dreams did not come true and I knew nothing about the thrill of victory but I could have written a book on the agony of defeat. My hopes were dashed to the ground and I have no good memories of high school. I have never been to an Athens ball game since my graduation in 1967. When I graduated high school, I felt like I was in a maze; I was like a blind man bumping into furniture. I had no idea what I was to do with my life. My entire life was centered around sports. At the time, I could not see a future a part from sports. I was all but certain that I would either play or coach but I was a kid and had a lot to learn. I found out that selfish coaches and clickish high schools are not the end of the world. I ran track for two years at Calhoun  which in those days was like an extension of high school. My two years at UCLA [University of Calhoun Located by Airstrip] were two of the best years of my life. We never lost a meet in two years. I was the 7th man and of course it just so happens that 7 men are on the team. The top five finishers score but the 6th and 7th man can bump, which makes the other team score higher. Cross Country is like golf, the low score wins. A perfect score is 15 and that doesn’t happen very much. In my last two years of college, I discovered  intramural ball and had a blast. I played football  [8 man] which was brutal, softball and basketball. I was a player coach my senior year in basketball. We went to the state tournament but got put out in the first round. Alan Pope was our star and he blew a knee out and could not play in the tournament. When I got to Seminary, I was shocked, they had both softball and basketball. We had our own gym in seminary and I was the athletic director my senior year. Then I played on church basketball teams until I was 40 and softball until I was 46. I played gut and groan basketball until I was 57. Now I am down to one and a half lungs and two bad knees. I loved running but my running days are over.
 
I can’t tell you how many morning I have awakened with the chilling horror of my failure in high school sports. I have no idea why this haunted me. I have had good friends tell me to forget it but I cannot forget. I talked to an old grad a few years ago at a funeral and I mentioned my bench warming days at Athens. He said, “You need to get over that man, that was 40 years ago.” I knew he was right but it didn’t change anything. About a year or so ago, I stopped waking up with this bad dream on my mind. Maybe at 64 I am finally making some progress. My track coach said something to me one day that he meant as a compliment but it was an insult to me at the time. We had a sprinter name Royce Martin and he could fly but he had a bad attitude and he didn’t want to practice. Coach Franks said to me, “Bailey, I wish I could put your heart in his body.” My thoughts were, “I wish the LORD had given me his ability, I wouldn’t waste it like he is doing.”
 
That brings me to my point finally: why didn’t the LORD give me athletic ability? Why didn’t He allow me to live my dream? Why did He allow my dreams to be shattered? I don’t know that I have all the answers but I now have a few.
 
First of all: the LORD had something more important for me to do. I was not thrilled when God called me to preach and I even felt that I was making a tremendous sacrifice to answer the call. I struggled with that call for years. I was around 35 years old when I finally settled on my call. God is infinitely patient: I often wonder why He did not kill me for being so obstinate. At age 64, I have no sports trophies, no MVP awards but would they be worth anything if I had them. O.J. Simpson has awards and what are they worth to him? Just a couple of weeks ago, two young people, one 14 and one 8 came to me after the service wanting me to tell them how to be saved. I stayed at church an extra hour or so sharing Christ with them and I floated home on a cloud of joy. I’ll see these kids in heaven. Patton Manning will not have any MVP awards in heaven. I know it’s a huge disappointment to the rednecks of the world but I am fairly certain there will be no football in heaven. I know what you are thinking: sour grapes, right? If I had the chance, I would swap places with Patton, right? Wrong! I would not! I would have 30 years ago but football becomes less important to me each day. I am boycotting the NFL this year because of the way they have treated Tim Tebow who has both heart and ability. It hasn’t bothered me at all not to watch the pros. I watch Alabama football most of the time and every now and then a big game of sorts but I watch very little football these days. I have more important things to do and my calling is higher. I’m not that smart: had I been good at football, I would have gone as far as I could have went and I would have missed what God called me to be. He simply closed door, slammed it matter of fact, in order to guide me into something better.
 
The second thing and this actually came to me before the first but did not give me the peace that the first has given: I have a heart for bench warmers. I know what it is like to be left out, to be cut, to be told you are not good enough to make the team. I have had happen more than once so I have compassion on the kids that get cut and the ones who are not in the coaches favor. My peers and my children might say something nice about me every once in a while but you will not hear them say, “My daddy was the best coach I had.” They will not say it because it is not true and I coached them all because I wanted to make sure they played. Earl Pitts says, “If you don’t want your kid playing right field and batting 9th or sitting the pine, you better sign up as the coach.” Hannah played one year prior to my coaching and she went to bat twice and played the field 0 innings. That pushed me over the edge and I did the best I could for the next dozen years. I tell you what you cannot find: you cannot find a kid who played for me that sit the pine all the time. Win or lose I always used a rotation. My goal was not to win but to make sure that every child got to play. You can make light of my philosophy if you want but I just happen to be right and you are wrong. Over 99% of these kids are not going to play in the SEC or the Pros. They are just kids growing up and learning their skills and trying to determine which direction they should go. I have no doubt about it, Coaches are life wives, they can make you or break you. I had 4-5 good one and two dozen bad ones. They didn’t give a hoot nor a Halifax about me, the only thing they were concerned about was themselves and their record. A good coach can instill confidence and build character but a bad one is both destructive to confidence and what character they teach is by default…you just want to make sure you don’t turn out like them.
 
The third thing that my experience taught me is that life is not always fair, the fastest runner may not win the race as Solomon said and the best player may not get the suit or make the team. We have to learn to deal with disappointments because life is filled with them. There is great joy in giving birth to children but there is also some pain. Mother use to say, “When they are little, they step on your toes, when they get grown, they step on your heart.” My mother was right about that and lot of other things. We want our kids to grow up and love Jesus, have happy marriages, kids that mind and spouse that loves and supports them but it doesn’t always work out that way. When the disappointments and heartaches come, you can say “Why me LORD. I don’t deserve this!” but do you deserve all the good things that happen to you? As Job told his hateful wife, “We have to take the good with the bad,” this is life. We bought all our kids a car, not new cars but cars and I think all of them had at least one wreck. One of them had two in one week. There is a risk to giving a kid a car but think of the pleasure they have in having their own transportation. There is no such thing as pleasure without pain or risk. Did I worry about my kids driving? Sure, that is part of the pain. Did I hit the ceiling when they totaled a vehicle? Probably, I don’t remember but if they are to enjoy the pleasure of a car, you have to endure the risk and the expense which I interpret to be pain. When I look at my kids and grand kids, I know I am reaping what I sowed, I just don’t remember sowing so much. Long story short, we experience both failure and success, victory and defeat because our lives need balance. If all my dreams had come true, no one would be able to stand me and as it is I have at least a dozen friends.
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