That Time I Was an Idiot

For parents of athletes. Especially those who want to win.

Short-cut grass

We arrive when the mist is still rising off the field. I unfold my chair, settle its legs into soft earth and sink back into my book. The players look a little foggy too having been scooped out of warm beds, coaxed into uniforms and shoved into cars for the hour drive with a granola bar and a water bottle bigger than their heads. One by one they drop gear and begin making zigzags with balls around cones in the short-cut grass.

The wide expanse is quiet except for what soon becomes a steady pitter-patter of cleats. We parents aren’t yet bright-eyed enough for pleasantries but manage a curt “Mornin’” as each one approaches and the unspoken question filling in the edges of Sunday morning is: “Why are we here again?”

Jon’s eye is on the other team during warm-up and his comments about their footwork jolt me from the pull of Where’d You Go Bernadette–not quite What Alice Forgot but a good read nonetheless.

“This could be a tough one,” he says.

The game finally gets underway and seconds after kickoff a player from the opposing team breaks away and passes to a teammate who then swiftly kicks the ball into the left corner of our net. Up to this point the sidelines have remained sleepy except for a feeble “Go team” or two just before the whistle, but with that kick we collectively wake up.

Directly after the first, a second goal comes right on its heels and I turn my gaze toward the middle just in time to see our team wilt before my very eyes. In an attempt to shore up confidence I shout out, “Shake it off girls. You’ve got this.” And then for good measure and because apparently I don’t think that’s enough to recharge their resolve, I pull up some fire from down below and add “Let’s CRUSH ‘EM!!!” in my fiercest tone.

Jon’s left hand shoots straight onto my forearm–his universal message for Pipe down–while his eyes laser out another one: Don’t start. From down the line a different dad tilts my general direction and says, “Really? Let’s crush ‘em?”

This is the part where I’d like to say I turn three shades of red and feel compelled by closely-held convictions of peace and unity to stand up, about-face and announce to the people in chairs “So sorry for my outburst. I don’t know what came over me!” before laughing it off and clinking our metal coffee mugs together in an all’s-forgiven, reality-check toast.

Instead, I choose to busy my lips with another sip of coffee (like I need it) and more hand-wringing. There’s only one way I feel and it’s not guilty. It’s caught.

Other Dad’s question interrupts my game-time trance but quickly gets lost in the shuffle as we return our attention to the front to watch play after play unfold, each issuing a personal invitation for our respective comments.

It’s not until later when I’m drying a plate with a dishtowel that I dare ask Jon, “How bad was it?”

“Pretty bad. You were outta line.” (Unfortunately, he never lies.)

For once I don’t erect a swift defense; keep smearing around what’s wet and pondering how I got so tightly wound up. I think back to this morning when I sat silently staring at a wall of trees. How did I get from thanking God for the sunrise to telling my kid and her teammates to hurt other small children?

Lord, I’m not okay. 

A song blares from the radio when I’m driving alone on a Tuesday: In this time of desperation, when all we know is doubt and fear…They play this one everyday so I belt out the words, one hand on the steering wheel, other drumming my thigh. As it builds to my favorite part, my pulse quickens and my right hand lifts high toward the sunroof.

And the gates of hell will not prevail, ‘cause the power of God has torn the veil…Fresh adrenaline shoots through me and, as I fist pump the air from the leather seat of a minivan, I realize this sudden desire to fight feels the same as when I’m in a canvas chair at the soccer field.

Fresh tears sting my eyes and lyrics reach into the middle of that fire I keep burning down below–the one I constantly stoke and feed with fresh wood–to expose that no matter my effort, my fight has limits. My fire can burn out.

This is so much bigger than soccer cleats and shin guards. This feels personal. I can’t bear to see girls wilt on the field because I don’t want the reminder that I often feel defeat too.

How come I can’t get a WIN?

I don’t really want to see small children beat each other to a pulp. I’d be okay if we sent them off with popsicles to the monkey bars and called the games a draw. What I really want is to watch the replay of me beating down my own enemies. When I look Doubt and Fear square in the eyes, drop them on their knees and, in the midst of their pleas for mercy shout in my loudest, bravest voice, “No more!” just before I crush them flat like a pancake with my bare but bloodied hands.

Or something similar.

But my quietest, meekest voice–the one I rarely let out of her cage–says “I can’t” ‘cause she knows they continue to elude me no matter how much I ratchet myself up.

I can’t. Two words which usher in either the sweetest relief or the darkest depression. But only after they’re uttered, can the next two be chosen or rejected: He can.

Lord, help me get to those admissions quicker.

And, oh, I may need reminding from time to time that the fight on the field is different altogether from the one You’ve already won. I know You don’t much need my help with the big one but thanks for humoring me anyway.

Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least another decade to go, so when I walk to the edges of where kids compete, would You be so gracious as to let me carry Your Spirit with me? To the benefit of all children, not just my own, and for the sake of everyone around me.

p.s. Thanks for planting this feisty fire inside me. When I’m not misusing it to act like an idiot, it’s a whole lot of fun.

I’m resurrecting the blog after a summer break that ran too long. Add your email up there on the right at “Receive Blog Updates” to receive posts. Also you can like The Right Volume on Facebook.

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  • Lori Ibach

    Samantha! He has given you an amazing voice to be heard and shared! Thank you for humbly repenting of a mis-step, this came at a time for me when I needed to tell the enemy off instead of stew about the errors of man (myself included)! Great message, His wisdom! One step at a time! God bless you, Lori

    • Samantha Livingston

      Thanks for your encouragement Lori. Great to see you here!