I fell out of love with baseball a couple of decades ago. Which makes it remarkably strange (that’s why I’m remarking on it) that one of my favorite recent activities is helping coach my 8-year old’s baseball team.
“Helping coach” gives me far too much credit. Owen’s team has two exceptional coaches. Both former college athletes, Damon and Josh manage to mask the intrinsic competitive fire that allowed them to perform at that level, in order to focus on making sure the boys are staying positive, having fun, and most importantly learning about the game. Damon and Josh certainly don’t need my help with the baseballing, but with 11 energetic 8-year olds in the dugout at any given time, I serve as an extra set of eyes, arms and legs.
During the games, we’ve settled into a routine. I hang out in the dugout during the first 2 innings — at this age, the boys pitch the first 2 innings and the coaches pitch to their own teams for the remaining 4 — shouting out the batting order, making sure each kid has a batting helmet before they trot out to home plate, trying to keep them focused on the game and not on filling one another’s hats with dugout dirt. When it’s our turn to head out to the field, it’s my job to make sure everyone knows their positions and to grab the catcher’s gear to help him put it on, talking to him about what he’s going to do on a pop foul or a hit that trickles just beyond home plate. Starting with the 3rd inning, I coach first base when we’re up to bat so that Damon can pitch.
I have a purpose, and I know exactly what it is. I’m not the head coach or the assistant coach, I’m the dugout support doing what needs to be done to keep things moving as smoothly as 11 8-year olds playing a very patient game can possibly move. Fulfilling that purpose, knowing that I have a specific job and that it’s helping the team, is incredibly satisfying.
There are very few times when we know our exact purpose. When we know what the specific expectations are of us. When we know why we’re here. Most of the time we’re just finding our way, fumbling along and maybe getting lucky and getting something right once in awhile. Most of the time, we’re just wandering the base paths hoping to trip on a base.
We were in a meeting to find out the results of our youngest son’s recent testing. There were a couple of school psychologists there, along with the school corporation’s Director of Special Education. We were in a kindergarten classroom, sitting on little kindergarten chairs around a little kindergarten table. A box of kindergarten tissues in the middle of the kindergarten table. We were all dressed for work, the Special Ed Director in a suit. There were laptops open on the little table typically reserved for big yellow pencils and finger paints.
There was lots of explanation of test procedures and methodology. Lots of praise for what a sweet boy Gabe is and what great parents we must be. The build up, leading to the diagnosis. They looked at me as they told us that Gabe falls on the autism spectrum. Janet would tell me later that they’d asked her previously how I would react to a diagnosis — apparently it’s the dads who typically go into denial while the moms accept what some part of them already knows and get down to the business of how to help and what to do next.
But in that moment, listening to their words, something happened. Something fell into place. An internal switch was flipped. I felt sudden warmth, like I was being wrapped in a blanket, gently squeezed. And there was a very quiet whisper, “This is why you’re here.”
I think it’s the only time God has talked to me, or maybe just the only time I’ve been listening. In that moment, I was learning my purpose. Yes, to be the best husband I can and the best father I can be to our 2 older boys. But maybe even more so, to help raise this special child who will some day do something very extraordinary. We’ve been trusted with him, because some day in some small (or maybe large) corner of the world, he’s going to do something or be someone that makes that corner a better place.
All of that was in that whisper.
I listen for more whispers, hard. To be reassured that we’re on the right track, that the day-to-day struggles are all part of the plan. I tune in more. But most of the time it just feels like wandering the base paths.
For now, purpose is enough. Maybe the purpose of it all is the search for purpose, and when you find even just a bit of it everything else somehow falls into place. We grab the catcher’s gear and help them suit up while giving a pep talk. We trot out to first base to pat them on the back when they hustle out a ground ball. We call out the batting order. And we know, somehow, we’re fulfilling a purpose. Maybe there will be more whispers later. For now, it’s just the 1st inning.