Saturday, March 22, 2014

You Can't Steal Second, With Your Foot on First Base

           One of the most exciting plays in baseball is when a runner, who made it to first base, tries to steal second base. It is an out of the ordinary play, and not many runners are successful. While on first base, before the next batter hits the ball, the runner tries to sprint to second base before the pitcher or catcher throws the ball to the second baseman, who can then tag the runner out.

What does it take to steal second base?
1.     Guts. The runners that steal second are bold, gutsy, and have a ‘go for it’ attitude.
2.     Confidence. They need to be confident they can run faster than the catcher or pitcher can throw the ball to second base.
3.     Sliding. To steal, the runner has to sprint to second base and then dive head first, arms outstretched, to try and tag second base.
4.     Most importantly, and without this it is impossible to get to second, the runner must take his foot off first base. They have to take a few steps away from the base, get a lead off, and look for the best opportunity to run.
            There is a huge risk is doing this. Stepping off the base alerts the other team that you may try to steal second. At any time the pitcher can turn around and throw the ball to the first baseman, who can tag the runner out, if his foot is not touching first base. Taking a few steps off of first and towards second taunts the pitcher to throw to the first basemen, sending the message to the runner: You better not steal. You can’t make it and I am here to see that you don’t.

            Stealing second is so risky; there are usually many failed attempts, before a runner is successful. The catcher has a very strong arm, and if the pitcher does not throw the runner out, the catcher can usually blast the ball to second base before the runner can make it.
            Isn’t this how it is in real life also? We will never make it to our goal, if we stay where we are. In a game, the next few hitters could strike out, and the game could end without you ever leaving the first base bag.
            For us to make it to our goal, or our next step, we have to start. We have to get off first base, our comfort zone, and take a few steps in the direction we want to go.
            We also need to have the bold, ‘go for it’ attitude. Nobody ever accomplished anything without having the guts to try something new.
            We need to be confident in the skills and talents our Heavenly Coach has instilled in us. We need to be confident that any path He puts us on, that He will be with us as we run toward the next base.
            Diving head first into second base can be painful. Along the path towards our goal, there may be pain and difficulties as well. When we dive head first toward our goal, arms outstretched, we can get a little bruised or scraped, and we end up dirtier than when we started. But, when we look back, accomplishing that goal will be worth all the difficulties.
            Taking our foot off first base, taking a few steps towards our goal, is the most important step. We need to be alert to the opportunities and struggles that may come our way. We need to be prepared that someone may try to prevent us from reaching our goal. We need to have a clear path to our goal, and we need to give it all we’ve got.
            When that happens, it is a beautiful thing to watch.

“I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ.” Philippians 3:14

      Are you living in fear, with your foot firmly planted on first base?  Or are you living in faith, by taking a risk, and taking a few steps towards your goal? 

  Take a few more steps.  You can do it.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Getting to First Base

                              It seems like EVERYONE knows how to get to first base.
It is one of the things baseball players learn early. Most of them could do it with their eyes closed. They don’t even have to think about it.
            Everyone knows how to get to first base, except some of those first year players. That first year of Tee Ball is so fun. The players are only five or six years old. Most of them still need help tying their cleats. Many of them don’t know their right from their left yet. And yes, some of them do not know their way to first base, at least at the beginning of the season.
            We can’t blame them. With the excitement of the game, the crowd cheering, and parents yelling, it can be hard to remember for these young players. Even with the ball sitting on the tee, a hit is not always guaranteed at this age. So, when they finally do hit the ball off the tee, their adrenaline soars, and they just don’t remember what to do next. Sometimes they run to third base. Sometimes they run to second base. Sometimes they run randomly out to the outfield, not having a clue what they are doing. Their parents and coach can be yelling,
 “Run to first! Run to first!”
But if they are new to the game, and overflowing with excitement, along with the crowd, running to first base may not be an automatic response for them.
            It is one of the basic fundamentals of baseball. When you hit the ball, you run to first base. How could anyone miss it?
            Isn’t that how we are sometimes, even as adults? Something exciting happens in our life, whether good or bad, that gets our adrenaline rushing, and what do we do first? Do we run to first base, where our Heavenly Coach is standing and waving to us? No, I admit, sometimes I don’t, even though I have long known how to tie my cleats and can confidently tell my right from my left.
            No, sometimes when something exciting or awful happens, I run to tell a friend first. Or, I run around aimlessly, worrying. Or, I rush quickly to play the ‘Worst Case Scenario Game,’ just like a tee ball player, running to the outfield.  Sometimes, I don’t even look up to see my Heavenly Coach waiting patiently for me to touch base with Him. Whether it is for encouragement, affirmation, guidance or correction, I need to be running first to my Heavenly Coach.
            How about you? Are you busy running from appointment to appointment? Are you so busy worrying that you forget to put first things first? When life fills you with adrenaline, because of either a good or bad hit, I hope you are running to first base, first thing, knowing that your Coach is waiting for you there.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

7 Lessons I Learned During Baseball Season

            I love spring. In our house, spring was always called baseball season. For 13 years, every spring, actually starting in February, our family began planning for baseball season. There would be a few weeks of nice weather, and lots of sunshine. Then, without fail, on the day of the first game, the weather would turn. The temperature would drop, and the winds would start blowing ninety miles an hour. It was miserable for the fans. I don’t think the players even noticed. They were so excited for the first game of the season.
Seven lessons I learned during that season of life have stayed with me. Lessons like:
1. Keep your eye on the ball. You can’t hit the ball, if you can’t see the ball.
Don’t be consumed with unimportant things and time wasters, that I miss the real life happening around me.
2. Run through first base.
Never stop running. Don’t slow down when you approach your goal. Finish strong. Just because I am approaching a certain age, don’t give up on my goals.  Keep going strong. Stay at it. Do something everyday, even if it is small, toward those things I want to accomplish.
3. Touch every bag as you run around the bases.
Don’t try to take a shortcut and miss something as important as touching a base. 
Don’t be so focused on the end, that I miss the journey. Each step and season in life is important. Enjoy each season.
4. In the outfield, do not wait for the ball to come to you. Run up and get it.                   Anticipate a bad hop.
That job, ministry opportunity, college degree, new skill, hobby or goal is not going to just come to me. I have to be willing to work for it.
5. Don’t try and be the hero and throw the ball all the way from the outfield to home plate.  Throw to your cut off man, who is half way between you and home plate. He is there to help you.
Oh, this is a hard one. Ask for help. Life, like baseball, is not meant to be played alone. We need each other. I can’t be a Lone Ranger Christian.
6. Encourage your teammates when they get up to bat.
Words are free. Whether spoken, emailed or text, we never know how much our words can encourage, lift up and affirm others, and it does not cost us anything. “Great job!”  “You can do it!”  “You are amazing!”
7. When you have two strikes, take a step out of the box, choke up on the bat, and put the ball in play.
Life is hard, and sometimes we get two strikes on us and get discouraged. Take a breath. Pray. Refocus. Know that we do not have to conquer the world today. We just need to look to our Heavenly Coach for encouragement and get back in the box and swing again.
I hope you enjoy whatever season in life you are in. God has an amazing life planned for us. He wants us to live it to the fullest.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Part 3: A Call to a Life That is Greater

    This is the end of a three part series. If you missed Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

    After a week, that felt like a month, the head of oncology, Dr Black, called. He said they had five doctors looking at her mole. Four of them had already agreed it was Stage 4. He was waiting for one more doctor to get back to him and then they would decide how to proceed.

     I wanted them to do chemo and radiation on her TODAY.  I did not understand what was taking so long. I knew the sooner she got treatment, the sooner the cancer would be killed.

     He said, first, she would have an MRI and then, another larger surgery on her thigh. After that, they would determine a treatment plan.

     I called our Pediatrician, often, to see if he had heard from the oncologist. After another week of worry, I finally said to him, in frustration, “I don’t understand what we are waiting for. Why aren’t they starting some type of treatment on her right away?”

     I will never forget his answer. It was like a dagger plunging into my heart.
“It is not going to matter when they start the treatment,” he said solemnly.


He had given her a death sentence.

     Were they not even going to try to save her? Was there not going to be any attempt at treatment to kill the cancer? I could not believe he said that. It was more than I could bear.

     A volcano of rage churned inside me, and the never-ending tears flowed down my face. I clinched my teeth together. I could not take it any more. Broken hearted, I exploded,

“It matters a whole lot to ME!”

     He ripped, what little hope I had left. Any hope I had that she would be one of the ten percent, to live, was crushed.

     It is a terrible place to be, without hope.

     I wish I could say I was a pillar of faith during this time. I wasn’t.  All I could do was beg. I was a desperate Mom, begging God to save her child. I begged and pleaded with God all day long. I woke up every night wondering if she had died in her sleep. I would walk into her dark room and check to see if she was still breathing, and beg God some more.

     “Please save her, Lord. Please heal her. Please, kill this cancer inside her.”

     I clung to Psalm 23. I had never understood the part about ‘the shadow of death’ until then. Nobody had died, but I could feel this heavy shadow covering us, anticipating the worst. Verse four says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

     After the Pediatrician told me it would not matter when they started treatment on her, we knew the Lord was our only hope. The Sunday after that call, we sat in the front row at church and listened to the choir sing. We were numb. I did not want to talk to anybody because I did not want to cry anymore. I was looking forward to the distraction of singing. Then, like angels singing down from heaven, the choir belted out these amazing words:

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!“
 Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

     Vince and I, who love to sing, stood frozen in silence, tears streaming down our cheeks. It was like they were singing just for us. They were reminding us that the Lord is faithful. They were filling our souls with the hope that had been crushed. The Lord is our only ‘strength for today’ and He is the ‘bright hope for tomorrow.’

     I did not take it as a promise for her healing. But, I knew the Lord would be with us during this difficult time.

     That next week, I received another call from the oncologist.

     “Hello, this is Dr. Black. Something has happened to your daughter’s mole over the weekend. It appears to have changed. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t believe it is malignant anymore. I have sent it back to the other four doctors to reevaluate.  I will call you when I have their confirmation. She will need more surgery, then, hopefully, no further treatment after that.

     PRAISE GOD was all I could say. The doctor did not know what had happened, but I knew exactly what had happened. Our great and awesome God had healed her! He had answered the prayers of so many people who were praying for her! I hung up the phone and buried my face in my hands, and sobbed.

     “Thank you Lord! Thank you for saving her! Thank you for healing her!”

     A month later, she had another surgery. The surgeon removed a three-inch by three-inch chunk of her tiny thigh, and she does, indeed, still have a large scar from it. But, when someone suggested she could have the thick, keloid scar removed or fixed, she replied,
“I would never get rid of that scar. That is where God healed me.”

      Psalm 107:20
      He sent out his word and healed you, snatching you from the door of death.
      Psalm 118:17
      You WILL NOT die; instead you WILL live to tell what the Lord has done.

     We are so grateful to God, that He chose to heal our daughter.  The fact that He snatched our Little Sweetie from the shadow of death, shows, overwhelmingly, how much He loves her and has called her to a life that is greater.

***I know God does not have any favorites. He loves all of His children equally. We are all His favorites. I do not know why He chooses to heal some people and not others. I wish He healed everyone. But, in our daughter’s case, I am forever grateful that He saved her. I am still grateful that He is our strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.***

Monday, March 3, 2014

Part 2: Called to Pray

    If you missed Part 1, you can read it here. (Part 1)

     I decided to find out everything I could about malignant melanoma, so I drove to a bookstore. (This was before Google.) The most important thing I wanted to know was, what is the treatment and what is the survival rate?
     Trying to hold my emotions together, I asked the guy at the information desk, “Where are your medical books?”
     “What exactly do you want to look up?” he asked.
     I swallowed hard. How was I going to be able to say those words, and keep the avalanche of tears back?
     Softly and deliberately, I forced the words out, “malignant melanoma."  I hated those words already.
     He led me to the most current, thick, medical journal. I scoured the table of contents, turned to the page I needed and read silently.
My heart sank into my stomach. Water gushed out of my eyes. No! No! Please God, this can’t be right. I read it again and again:

Stage IV Melanoma
The prognosis for patients with distant metastases is generally poor, with historical 5-year survival rates of less than 10%. 

     Our sweet, spunky, toe-headed Little Sweety, had less than a ten percent chance of surviving for five years?  I closed the book and put it back on the shelf.  Those odds could not be any worse. Why didn’t it just say those people are going to die?

     I drove back to our shop, and between sobs, explained what I read to Vince. He hugged me, as tears flowed out of his already puffy eyes. That anger, that comes from frustration and lack of control, started growing in me.

Why God?
Why was this happening to us?
Why to our little girl?
I hated this! I wanted to scream! This can’t be happening!

     Our life had been going so great. Yesterday, Little Sweety had been healthy and happy, loving her big golden retriever, Shadrach. She had a new baby brother, who was five months old. God had blessed us with a wonderful marriage, and He had enabled us to buy our own print shop. Life was happy for our family, and now this.

     I was not mad at God. I was mad at the situation. I was mad at the cancer. I was mad at the dermatologist for reprimanding us, in the same conversation that he told us our daughter has cancer. What kind of mean doctor does that? We had no idea she might have cancer. Even he had not mentioned it when he removed the mole. How were we supposed to know?

     Vince, having a small hint of hope in his eyes, said, “I really feel like God wants us to call all the Believers we know, and have them pray for Little Sweety.” That sounded like a plan. It sounded like a huge, God sized plan, and much better than reading any more medical books. It turned out to be an emotionally draining task. Calling friends and people we knew from church and having to repeat those awful words, that terrible diagnosis, that evil ‘C’ word that everyone hates. People were shocked. They cried. We cried more. They called others to pray for our daughter. Many people from other churches and other states were praying. In the next few weeks, we received stacks of cards and letters from God’s people who were praying for her.

     Vince made a lot more calls than I did. He was on a mission and focused on calling people to pray. I was starting to feel numb. It hurt too much to tell people this news. It was too painful.  It was exhausting trying to keep it together. Crying that much was draining. Finally, Vince came in and said, “You need to call your parents. They love Little Sweety and would want to know what is going on.”

     I did not want to make that phone call. As their first grandchild, our daughter was precious to them. They loved her so much. It would hurt them to know this, as much as it hurt us. Painful things are hard to do. I knew Vince was right, but I was having a hard time making that call.

     My Mom was at work, and late in the afternoon, I finally summoned the courage to call her.
“Mom, I have some bad news. Little Sweety has malignant melanoma, Stage 4 skin cancer.”

 The phone went silent.

“Mom. . . . .    Mom. . . .  . . .Mom! . . . . . ”

 Finally, a woman she worked with answered.
“Is this Robyn? Your Mom just fainted. We are going to drive her home and she will have to call you later.”

      My Mom had fainted at the news. I knew I should not have called her. I felt worse than ever and more angry at this stupid cancer.  I called my Dad.

      “Dad, I have some really bad news and when I told Mom, she fainted.”

     “What do you mean she fainted?” he asked.

     “I was talking to her and then she fainted. Someone at her work got on the phone and said they were driving her home.”

     “What is the bad news?” he asked.

     I was afraid to say the word. I knew my Dad hated cancer. Cancer had taken his mother and sister years before. I knew he equated cancer with death, because that had been his experience with the terrible disease.

     It is true, cancer does bring death, but God’s people are called to pray.

Have you ever had to tell someone really bad news?  How did they respond?
Have you ever been called to pray for someone?  Did you?           
(Click here to read Part 3)


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Where is God When You Get Bad News?

     I remember the phone call as if it were yesterday. Vince and I were both at work and I received a call from the dermatologist we had taken our two-year old daughter to. He had removed a mole on her upper right thigh, that had turned slightly blue and bled when I washed around it. Her pediatrician told me in December, it might need to be removed. Being a young parent, I thought he would do the removing. Now it was April, and the mole was bleeding. He sent us to the dermatologist, for what we thought was a routine procedure. Five days later the dermatologist called and said,
     “The results of your daughter’s biopsy indicate that she has Stage 4 malignant melanoma,” he said seriously.
     Adrenaline rushed through me and jolted my mind with alarm. I knew what malignant meant, but asked anyway, hoping I had not heard correctly, “What is that?”
     “It is a type of skin cancer. I sent your daughter’s mole to the UNM oncology lab, and they have confirmed Stage 4 malignant melanoma. They will give you a call when they determine what treatment plan will be used. I have removed thousands of moles and the ones that look like your daughter’s are always malignant. I knew when I removed it that it was malignant, but I wanted to wait until the results came back to call you.”
     And then, in a chastising voice he said, “Tell your husband he has a lot more to worry about than the size of her scar.”
     “What?” I asked, not understanding why the stern tone in his voice.
     “Your husband asked me if your daughter would have a large scar when I removed the mole, and you have much more to worry about than a scar.”
     I did not know what to say. Stunned and feeling like I had been reprimanded, I told him, nobody said there was a possibility that she would have cancer. What two-year-old gets skin cancer? We  tried to calm our precious daughter in his office, by making light of the procedure to remove the mole, and the stitches she was getting. Our pediatrician, who sent us to get it removed, never mentioned the possibility that it could be cancerous. We had no idea this would be the outcome.
     “UNM oncology will be calling you,” he said and hung up.
     Shocked and reeling from the phone call, I leaned on the desk with my face in my hands. Vince opened the door to the office and came in. “What is wrong?” he asked, seeing my red face and my eyes filling with tears.
     “The dermatologist said Little Sweety has malignant melanoma,” I blurted out, tears streaming down my cheeks.
     “What is that?” he asked.
     As I explained the conversation, all the blood drained from his face. Shocked, at this unimaginable news, he sat down. My heart ached and my spirit deflated. What were we supposed to do now?

What is the first thing you do when you hear bad news?   
Click to read Part 2.
Click to read Part 3