It happens almost every year, at least it used to. Many years in the snow of Jackson Hole almost blotted this one out. But, it is February and there begins an itching in my senses.
Baseball. It is in February that Spring Training begins. Even though I played at basketball during my younger years, my heart was always turning toward baseball when February came. It was easy to do in Southern California. The weather was warm enough. The grass was green enough. Why spend all that time indoors on the hard wood of a basketball court when the open field of a baseball diamond was calling.
Even during the winter, even when I was playing basketball (a game I now love), baseball was on my mind. I used to take old baseball bats…the wood type…ones that had been cracked or broken and I would repair them. I set up a batting cage in the garage. Drilled a hole through an old ball, put a rope through the hole and hung the ball from a joist in the garage. On the next joist over I nailed up an old moving blanket, the thick type. I would take those old repaired bats and hit that ball into the blanket. If you wrapped the ball one more time around the joist it would come through the strike zone at a different level. If I hit it to left field or right field it would return like a curve ball. Hours were spent with hundreds of swings during those darker days of winter. Yes, I was easily and self entertained.
I remember the feel of that first day on the field. As a youngster we would play in tennis shoes, none of our present day plastic cleats. But when I got to high school I was able to graduate to metal cleats. I will never forget the sound of metal cleats walking on the locker room floor, across the black top outdoor basketball courts and then connecting to the turf. I also will never forget the scratches and sometimes cuts on my ankles because I had forgotten about running with my feet spread a bit further apart.
And then there was the ball. I remember the touch of the leather, the roughness of the threads, and its smell. I remember holding it and tossing it up in the air and catching it… almost always. I remember throwing that ball to a new teammate. There was an immediate connection, a partnership if you will. The hours spent on the field and the miles traveling on a bus and the focus of striving to be our best and win the game took acquaintances and made them into friends.
February was the beginning of this journey.
It was in the Spring of 1970 when I heard the news. Times were tough for small, Christian, Liberal Arts colleges. The powers that directed Seattle Pacific had to make some hard decisions and baseball was not a revenue producing sport. My freshman year would be the last year. They would honor my scholarship but there would be no more team. Ouch.
As so often happens, the hard decisions that others make causes those directly impacted to make hard decisions as well. The assessment I had made of my baseball abilities was that I was good but not that good. A ‘Baseball career’ had been a dream but I knew in my soul that it would not become a reality. As I prayed I felt God was calling me in another direction and as the years unfolded that direction turned out to be full-time ministry.
In the Book of Exodus we have the fascinating story of God calling Moses to ministry. When God called Moses he was a shepherd in the Sinai. Moses was reluctant to say “YES” to God’s call and came up with a number of excuses as to why he should do something else besides serve God. So God asked Moses what was in his hand (Exodus 4:2). “A staff,” was the reply. God told Moses to throw it down and when he did it became a snake. God told Moses to pick the snake up by the tail. When Moses did it returned to a staff. A few verses later, after Moses finally submitted and obeyed the call of God we read:
Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.” So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand. (4:19-20)
The staff of Moses had become the staff of God! Wow.
That is what God did for me with baseball. In college I felt God had taken away something I loved. I felt robbed by God. But over the years God returned what I loved but, this time as a tool for ministry. Men’s church league softball teams; men’s non-church league teams; coaching Babe Ruth baseball; talking sports with the guys, all have become places to connect and ultimately to open the door to talk about Jesus.
So, what is it that you love that God wants to use? Computers? Sewing? Cooking? Writing? Budgeting? Hiking? Botany? Kayaking? Dog Training? Reading? I am convinced that when we give those things we love to God, God will return them to us to use as a tool to share the Gospel with people who need to be touched by God’s Good News through Jesus our Lord.
It’s February. To what is God calling you?