She can and does hit a pitched ball, but I love her anyway. She's the best at a great attitude, and she's the best at still smiling even when she doesn't hit the ball from a pitch but uses the T instead. She may actually come to the games primarily to give out hugs at the end.
I sat and watched one particular Team Ball game recently and it left me angry, dismayed, and sad. While we've experienced, for the most part, a general sense of fun and good sportsmanship, I'm of the persuasion that this league, for 5 and 6 year olds, really isn't always for the kids. It's really just for the coaches and super-competitive parents. We've been grateful that Freckles, playing just because she wants to play, has been placed on the team a friend of ours coaches. I get the feeling it's okay with him that she doesn't always remember which way to run around the bases, or that she comes for the hugs.
But the coaches on the other team a few nights back didn't cheer their kids on to first base when the ball fell at their ankles. In fact, fair balls were re-pitched in a few instances when the child didn't hit it as far or as strongly as expected, even if it was hit several feet in front of them. And when "Big Hitter," as announced by the coach each time he was at the plate, stepped up for his last at bat and skidded it into the pitcher's glove instead of knocking it out of the park, a distinct look of disappointment crossed the coach's face. "Go ahead and run to first," he said, disapproval evident. "I guess that's good enough, and it's getting dark."
Really? That's the message you want to send these 5 year olds? That they're just barely good enough? Or even worse, not quite good enough, even if they've done all they can just to hit a ball off a T?
* * * * *
This is B. He came home from China about 3 years ago. He was born with hand, hip, and feet deformities. Some corrective surgeries have been successful and helpful. Some - before he was adopted - left him with damaging scar tissue. He won't ever be an athlete. But he's good at connecting wires and pushing buttons and will make a great engineer when he grows up.
This is K. She was born with Moebius Syndrome. It's a neurological disorder and affects her ability to blink, smile, and frown. She was born with only one hand and one foot. She has a cool prosthetic leg tattooed with butterflies. But even cooler than that? This one-handed little girl plays the violin.
This is N. She's 5 years old, and is one of Freckles' dearest friends. She has an inoperable benign tumor on her spinal cord that's left her missing outer-halves of 14 vertebrae. She gets around in a stander - like a wheelchair except it promotes weight-bearing leg strength. She's gentle and sweet with those smaller than she and will carry this quality with her long into adulthood. Couple that trait with the fact that she's smart as a whip and you've got an educator parents will be beating down the door just to get their kids into her classroom.
My friends and their children? They've shown me how to embrace my own tiny babe whose legs aren't even the same length. Maybe she'll walk. Maybe she'll hobble. Maybe she won't be able to do either. Time will tell. But one thing is certain: it is my responsibility and my privilege to make sure she knows to the core that she is valuable and priceless regardless of what she can or can't do. And if I could get just a single chance with all those kids on the other team that night...
* * * * *
For the child who swings slowly and deliberately...you're more than good enough. You're going to be a great counselor and therapist, able to focus and listen to the ache in people's hearts and able to think before you speak. You're going to tell them that they are valuable, that they are acceptable and cherished and loved. Maybe you will do research, scouring for details other people missed and maybe your findings will change lives.
For the child doing cartwheels in the outfield...you're more than good enough. You're going to have a full life, bursting at the seams with opportunities seized, no rock left unturned, and no dull moment left unpolished. You will rarely be bored, and you will inspire those around you who have forgotten how to make the most of just standing around.
For the child who doesn't run as fast as all the other kids...you're more than good enough. Life isn't a race. And there's enough of it that moves too quickly, anyway. Be the person sitting at the Grand Canyon during the sunrise, savoring the moment, and painting. And give those paintings away - to the homeless, to sick children, to elderly shut-ins. Some people will never see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. You can bring it to them because you took the time to sit there. And then sit with them. They're not running as fast as anyone else, either.
For the child who won't hit a coach-pitched ball all season but can knock it off the T every time...you're more than good enough. Maybe you don't work well with fast, moving objects coming at your face, and that's okay. I believe you can be the surgeon working with skilled, calm, confident hands to save a life as it lays still and motionless on an operating table. If your hands are steady and certain, no one will care that you never connected a bat with a fast-moving ball.
For the child who couldn't catch a ball in their glove to save their life...you're more than good enough. A lot of stuff doesn't get caught in time. We all drop the ball. We all need someone to help us pick it up and pick up the pieces and put it back where it needs to be. You're going to be the faithful friend who hangs around and is loyal to the core. You're going to be the friend others know they can call at 3 AM when their heart is broken and their world is in shreds.
For the child who walks up to the plate gnawing the life out of a piece of gum and smacks the plate aggressively with the bat and growls a little bit, and oh, did I mention this was a little girl...you're more than good enough. You're going to be a fighter and I hope you fight for all the right things and stand up for those who can't speak up or stand up for themselves. Learn to fight the fights that need fighting so you don't exhaust yourself on the molehills. This world needs courageous people. You're one of them. Stay fearless.
And for the child who cracks the ball with the bat every time and sends it long into the outfield...you're more than good enough. And one of these days there will be a young whippersnapper better than you. But I believe your value and self-worth aren't wrapped up in how many Grand Slams you have to your name. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. You're terrific just the way you are. Use your confidence to build confidence in others.
And for those coaches that night... I don't know who ever told you as a child that you weren't good enough. Maybe it was your dad. Maybe it wasn't your dad because he wasn't there and you just wanted his approval and maybe it seemed if you were just good enough he would've stuck around. As angry as I felt that night, I also kept picturing how you must've looked as a little boy and I wondered when the first time you ever got the message that you weren't quite measuring up, that you were inadequate. And maybe the hardest part is that you've lived with those scars your whole life and all you can do is repeat the message to the kids on your team because hurting someone else somehow justifies the pain you've sustained yourself. And as much as I wanted to punch the adult-you in the nose, I wanted to hug the hurt, inadequate little-boy-you inside and get right down on his level and look deep in his eyes and say
You are valuable as-is.
You are loved as you are.
And really: that's the message for you, too. For all of us?
You have worth because you were made intentionally, not accidentally.
And there's One who knows your name and desperately wants you to know His.
You are acceptable simply because of Who He is and what He's already completed.
It counts for you because we can't ever be good enough on our own and He's already fulfilled the only standard worth measuring up to.
You are fully loved,
and in Him and because of Him, fully accepted.
But - Coach? Please. It's not about the Team Ball game. It's not even about this moment. It's about these life-changers stampeding around at your feet who wear their fragile, tender, larger-than-life hearts on their sleeves and how what we say to them today shapes their tomorrow. It's about their worth, and it's about yours.