Jakson played his last baseball game of the year last night. They are in an elite league of hand-picked eight year olds. Jakson’s team is not. They are not eight, most of them are six, and they are not elite. They are cute, they are special, they are loved by their mommy’s and daddy’s; but they are not elite. They played their last game of the season against one of the league’s best, the Murfreesboro Heat. We are the THUNDER, an ominous sounding name that disguises the fact that most of the kids can’t hit the broad side of a barn, the first baseman is afraid for the ball and a couple of the outfielders suffer from terminal ADHD.
We were the home team and going into the bottom of the last inning the score was Heat 17-Thunder 0. It was pretty much a shellacking. The game was much worse than the score expresses. There is the very merciful seven run limit per inning, which the Heat did twice. Then their coach began striking his own kids out (It’s coach pitch) on purpose. Some of the players were still hitting screaming line drives to the outfield while our outfielders were doing a game of ring-around-the-roses. On defense the Heat was amazing. We hit a high pop fly that was foul between third base and the dugout. In this league that is grounds for applause just because we made contact, and the third basement usually doesn’t even know where the ball is until it hits the ground. The Heat third baseman, an eight-year-old, obviously jacked up on HGH (Human Growth Hormones), sprinted toward the dugout, went down to his knees, and SLID under the ball, making a major league catch. Their fans went wild. Our fans sat in stunned disbelief, then went wild.
Well, let’s get this game over with. It is 17-0 going into the bottom of the last inning. Their kids are cheering for the win. Our kids are cheering because this is the last game. Our lead-off hitter hits a rope to the short stop who casually one hands the ball. Out one. Batter number two slaps a dribbler down the third base line. HGH kid charges, bare hands the ball, and throws a perfect strike to the first basemen. Out two. If we are going to mount a comeback it better be now. Grayson, our best hitter digs in, stares down the pitcher, who happens to be his dad, and sends the first pitch whistling to right center where the outfielder leaps into the air and makes a highlight reel catch. Three up, three down. Dismal end to a difficult season, right? Not so fast. The umpire says, “Play on!” Batter number four gets up and hits a squibbler past the first baseman and gets on. Jakson, my grandson, who has been 0 for October, crushes a fast ball just to the pitcher’s mound, the pitcher bobbles it and we have two on and three outs. (I know, you don’t hear that often in the box score.) Well, needless to say, the Thunder caught fire so to speak. We started hitting the ball. We would score two or three runs for every out we made. Before long we have cut the lead to 17-11 with only seven outs. It was an amazing comeback. The other parents were not into it, its late and cold and they wanted to go home. But I’m going crazy. Jon-Mical and I are standing behind the backstop screaming with every slow roller and jumping up and down on every sacrifice out that scores another run. “Jon-Mical,” I’m shouting, “We are only fourteen runs down. Two touchdowns and we tie it up.” “Jon-Mical, we’ve cut the lead to ten with only six outs. We can win this.” Jon-Mical,” we’re both cheering now, “We are six runs away. If they let us bat until midnight we can do it.” Before you get too excited, the umpire (very unfairly, I believe) called the game after we made nine outs and had cut the lead to six. We just couldn’t catch a break. (Or a fly ball.)
The season ended. All the kids were happy. They got huge chocolate chip cookies (laced with HGH, I hope) and fruit punch as a reward. The coaches gave out four game balls. Jakson got one. And the 2017 Barfield Thunder is in the history books.
I had a friend ask me yesterday, “What is grace?” THAT is grace, getting extra at bats in the bottom of the inning, second chances, and third and fourth. And not just getting extra at bats but hearing Jesus and Our Wonderful Father, cheering for us, going crazy on the sideline, even though we have struck out six times in a row. We finally barely hit the ball, the pitcher misses it and God goes nuts. He’s high fiving the angels, starting the wave on the edge of heaven. He is yelling, “That’s my boy; that’s my girl. I knew you could do it. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Keep running. You can win this thing.” Grace is God saying, “Hey, we don’t keep score here. There is no time clock. You just need to know that I am 100% for you and I will never give up on you.” He says, “YOU ARE ONE OF THE ELITE! I am so glad that you are on my team. I believe in you. I am crazy about you.” Grace is knowing that God is in our corner, no matter what. And that He will never, never, never give up on us.
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16) You know what, as a kid that was always picked last at recess, I like that. I likes to be chosen. And Jesus says, “I pick you. You can be on my team. And you get as many mess-ups as you want until you get it right. You are never out of it.”
So, here’s the deal. You are facing a difficult opponent, a marriage that is on the rocks, and addiction that has a strangle hold on you, a bank account that has only dust and moth balls, a medical diagnosis that has the doctor saying it is the bottom of the ninth. But God (remember that phrase) has chosen you. And God don’t pick no junk. He loves you with an everlasting love. He believes in you. He knows you are going to “bear fruit.” And by the way, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) So get your batting glove back on. Get back in the game. Me and Jon-Mical are cheering for you. And God says you are one of His best. Just a word of advice, don’t hit it to the kid on third base.
Two days until Simply Free. You will hear stories of people that came back against great odds. God is on their side. And ours.