Spring has sprung and sports have begun! Fields don this year’s shade of green, uniforms are fresh and clean, and we load up the back of our van with chairs and blankets and get ready for another season to cheer on our kids. Before we get too far into the season, however, I am reminded of a conversation I had several years ago with a fellow team mom that changed my life. Her words come back to me often, not just in the sports arena, but in many areas of life.
Our sons were on a young flag football team together – we didn’t know each other. During the first practice or two of a new season, it is easy to see how the team will play out. The more experienced players rise to the top; hardly ever missing a ball, running the fastest, etc. Everyone else seems to fall into place under them. This mom’s son was trying so hard, but he was a bit uncoordinated and slow. The team picked up on his sports weakness. No one said anything, but the apprehension of his contribution to the team could be felt among the coaches, players and parents.
After practice one day, I was gathering my things when this young boy’s mom said something to me, not directed at me, rather just speaking her thoughts out loud. She said, “I know my son isn’t a very good football player.” Her long pause caught my attention. She continued, “His little sister has leukemia, and she isn’t doing very well. Our time is spent helping her, but because of football, for one hour a week, life gets to be about him.”
My eyes caught hers, and I told her I was very sorry about her daughter. It’s all I could say. Honestly, I was completely unprepared for her words and began to cry as I walked back to my van. I felt a sting in my mom’s heart for this mom. A heaviness filled my soul for her ill daughter. Compassion overwhelmed me for their son, the football player. To think these children, young children, had to deal with this was simply too hard to wrap my head around.
I applaud these parents who, even though they must have been extremely tired and torn between two childhoods, made their son, and his needs, a priority amidst their suffering. I’m not a huge sports fan, and really don’t care who wins as long as everyone has tried their best, but after learning about this little guy – he won my heart.
Her words taught me a huge life lesson. That is, we really don’t know what’s going on in somone’s life at the moment, and grace should be our first response.
Just the other day, while driving through a parking lot, I waited as a very elderly woman ever-so-slowly backed out of her parking space. Her creeping car blocked the oncoming lane. The driver in that lane grew so impatient she laid on her horn – loud and long. I was embarrassed for the older woman who moved as fast as she was able. A few more seconds and she was on her way, but now she had to deal with being startled (we all were!), and knew someone was frustrated with her. Was waiting a few more seconds really worth the impulsive horn?
I vividly remember being in the store once and standing in the self-checkout lane. The other self-checkout lanes were 15 items or less, but not this one. There was no sign whatsoever. I had a huge cart full of items we had needed for a while. Everything from toilet paper to paper towels, soap, cleaning agents, you name it, it was in there. I stood, zombie-like, waiting my turn. While waiting, the lady next to me in her self-checkout lane kept eyeing me. I knew what she was doing. She was heaping judgement after judgement upon me for being in this lane and not in a full-service lane. I ignored her. However, enough time passed waiting that she just couldn’t resist. She couldn’t hold back rebuking me. She began, “You know, these lanes are really for people who have only a few items.” I looked at her and mustered up a half-smile. Oh, no sir, she wasn’t finished, “It’s just that, um, I see so much in your cart! People usually don’t use these lanes for that much stuff,” she smugly remarked, peering into my cart. I took a deep breath, turned to her with fire in my mouth and a thousand words locked and loaded, but chose to look away.
I knew that if I had opened my mouth, what would’ve come out would’ve gone something like this, “Ma’am. I understand you don’t think I should be in this lane. You think I’m over quota and am wasting everyone else’s time by cheating the system. Look! There is no sign telling me there is a limit to items I can have in this lane. If you must know, the reason I am in this lane is because I have had so many horrible things happen to me lately that I am on the verge of tears. If a clerk so much as said hello, or asked how I was, I knew I would break down right here in the middle of Wal-Mart and would absolutley NOT be able to pull myself together again. You are probably wondering what kinds of “horrible things,” so you can measure them against your life and deem if, in fact, they justify me standing in this lane. Well, since this episode will, at the least, be a critical topic of conversation between you and whomever you choose to tell, and at most cause you to lose precious sleep, me standing in this lane with a cart full of things, I will tell you…just so you can be at rest – if indeed you agree life has been very difficult for me and thus justify me standing in this lane. I just found out that I have mono. No clue how I got it, but it’s reeked havoc on my life as a wife and mother. I can’t even fix dinner. Do you see the items in my cart? We have none of these at home because this is my first trip out to get them. Also, my grandmother died a few days ago – 2 miles up the road. The woman who was a second mother to me; who gave her own life up to take care of my great-grandmother’s Alzheimer’s illness for 10 years until she died; who took care of my mother – her daughter – and her cancer until she died; who took care of my grandfather – her husband of 50+ years – and his cancer until he died; and who took me in at 16 and gave me a home instead of foster care for three years…yes, this amazing woman just died. I was also in a car accident that totaled my van. The hood of my van is currently lying in a ditch some 40 yards from the accident. I was thrown against the window of my door, and after the dust from the air bag settled I, thankfully, still knew who I was. This van was paid for, and now we have to spend who knows how much to replace it. And we can’t replace it because it was older, but in great condition. Now we will have a car payment which will come from who knows where. And, I just had to put my cat to sleep. She was 21 years old, and I’d had her since I was a teenager. In fact, ma’am, she was my mother’s cat that I inherited when she died. This cat has been with me through everything, and because of an irreparable health issue, she starved herself to the point of death. With my small children screaming at me about what a mean mom I am for “killing the cat,” because they don’t understand, I had to drive my beloved cat to the vet, by myself, in the rain, and humanely end her suffering life – or what was left of it. I could go on. But, I won’t. Why? Because I am too tired, too sad, too sick, and too frustrated with you for making me talk! I didn’t want to, couldn’t bring myself to, speak to anyone in public, which is why I am in the self-checkout, so I can check myself out! Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to buy my toilet paper now and go home.”
That’s why I just looked away, biting my tongue and clenching my jaw. This lady’s chastisement in front of many people left me humiliated. What was her point? She just couldn’t give me any grace that day.
Grace. We all need to receive it and freely give it away. We have no earthly idea what is happening in someone’s life, and the repercussions from it may very well appear frustrating to others at times. Whether on the sports field, on the road, in the store, or wherever, we need to remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt that not everyone has set out to purposefully ruin someone else’s day. Most times people are simply trying their best to make it through another day. The world would be an easier place to live in if we continue to remind ourselves that all of us are trying – fly or fail – and a little grace goes a long way.
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