Learning New Tricks

By Bill Mefford

Back in February, as I was crossing the street in front of my office, carrying a Sprite and a slice of pizza, I was running to beat the traffic and I tripped over a "chock block" (similar to the cement piece which prevents cars from running into the curb) and flew into the street, landing on my right shoulder. I will be honest, I really wish someone had video'd it - it was hilarious. But it was also very painful. Though I saved my Sprite and my pizza (which I ate before going to the emergency room), I did not save my right shoulder.  

I tore my rotator cuff and have done physical therapy, and have had multiple shots, but it still hurts like a bugger. The tears along my rotator cuff and the arthritis that they found when they did an MRI means that my dreams to play left field for the Cubs are officially over. My right shoulder is pretty much shot. 

The thing is, while I am not the most athletic person in the world I have always loved playing catch with my two boys. We have done that their whole lives. We play football, basketball, wrestle, tennis, anything and everything. But there is nothing like having a good game of throwing the baseball back and forth. That is something I will always remember and cherish with my boys.

The game of catch creates deep bonding, even if we never talk or simply talk about sports during it. Throwing the ball back and forth is a form of communication in itself; a form of speech conveying what I have I give to you, what you have you give to me. I receive from you, I give to you. Playing catch makes us as equals. Regardless of age or experience level, we both are players and lovers of the game. Throwing the ball back and forth is father and son sharing our love for one another and for the game. It is a timeless ritual and I honestly love it. 

But my throwing days are now over with my shoulder problems. 

That is, until this past Sunday when, with my youngest son Isaiah, we finally had a good game of catch. Except for this game, I threw with my left arm. It was easily the worst game of catch for me since I was 6 years old. I was throwing the ball everywhere at first. It was embarrassing. And I have so little strength that the ball went straight up into the air most times, or straight into the ground. But I persevered and thanks to my son's immense patience, my throws started becoming a little more accurate and a little stronger the more I threw. I even bought a right-handed glove to make the switch!

Though I know playing catch with my left hand is of very little consequence in the world, this was a big deal to me. My right arm is pretty much done. But I am not done - far from it. I want to keep playing catch with my boys and then with my grandchildren (boys and girls!). Thus, I have to exercise new skills, use new muscles in ways I am not familiar with. I am fifty years old (and feeling it), but I have to learn new things and I am so thankful for being in a family/community which allows me the grace to fail and learn, fail and learn, fail and learn. 

This is what we need in the church is it not? The church fails so often and sadly, there are so many people ready to pounce when the church tries new things, tests new skills, exercises new muscles, and fails. The Debbie Downers say new things should have never have been tried in the first place. The Debbie Downers are weirdly eager to talk about the long history of traditions in the church and the absolute importance of not changing them. Thus, we worship the form more than the function. We have a form of godliness without the power of God. But, more than anything, we remain stuck, remembering the past, but not living into the future. 

More personally for me, last week I wrote about living lost, unsure of whether what I am doing is "God's will" for my life (and not even sure what that means all of the time). But I can honestly say that even in the midst of feeling this sense of lostness I still get excited about learning new things,being creative and innovative. I have no idea if what I do has eternal consequence, but I am determined to be able to play outfield for a softball team as a left-hander; making a key catch in the 8th inning of a game while then whipping the ball into the infield, keeping the runners from advancing. And doing so with my left arm. Hey, what can I say, it's what 50 year-old men dream of. 

Whether we are individually or collectively lost, we can still learn new things, try new things, and fail repeatedly, and keep trying for more. It's living into the wonders of life. And that gets and keeps me excited to be alive. I am just thankful for my sons who give me the grace and support to keep playing catch, no matter how badly I throw. 

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