Sunday, August 15, 2010

First Braves Game

A couple of Friday nights ago, I took my son, William, to his very first Atlanta Braves baseball game. William loves the Braves. At just shy of five years old, he's too young to know all the players or understand all the ins and outs of baseball. But he loves playing catch in the backyard or hitting a few "home runs" with his plastic bat whenever Dad pitches him a few. All summer he'd been asking, "Dad, will you take me to a Braves game?" So, about a month ago, I called William into my office, sat him on my lap in front of the computer, and, together, we ordered tickets online for a Friday night game.

Part of me had reservations about going to a night game. I knew how badly it would mess up William's bedtime routine. One thing you learn as a parent: Don't screw with routines! Today's missed bedtime is tomorrow's emotional meltdown. Still, despite the risk, I elected to get tickets to an evening game. I wanted no part of sitting outside at Turner Field on a ninety-degree day. Atlanta summers are brutal. Satan himself won't visit Georgia in the summer time. Charlie Daniels doesn't bother to tell us what month the Devil actually went down to Georgia, but I'll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul that it wasn't in August. And so, I rolled the dice and bought tickets for a Friday night.

I've never been a huge Braves fan. In fact, I'm not a big baseball fan, period. I'm more of a football and college basketball kind of guy. But I knew it would be great to go to a Major League game with my kid. After all, what dad doesn't live to take his son (or daughter) to the ballpark, buy him (or her) a hot dog and a Coke, and then sit back and enjoy as the two of them watch the hometown team play baseball?

The night before the game, I ran by Wal-Mart and bought William a Braves hat. I could have waited and bought it at the game, but given that my son is too young to care, I decided I'd rather pay $7 than take out a second mortgage to pay stadium prices. I did, however, buy William his first Braves shirt at the game. After searching the racks to find something small enough to fit, we finally found a Brian McCann jersey that didn't totally engulf him. Donning his new Braves apparel, William strutted proudly alongside me as we made our way from the souvenir store to our seats along the first base line.

Unfortunately, there was a rain delay. Then, once the skies cleared, the Braves held a 1/2 hour ceremony to retire Tom Glavine's jersey. The first pitch wasn't thrown until after 9:30pm. Despite the rain and late start, William and I made the most of the down time. We ate pizza and hot dogs. I pointed out to William different features on the field and explained to him the significance of the retired jersey numbers that hung across the way. I also tried to answer some of his deeper questions like, "Why do catchers wear their hats backwards?" and "What do baseball players do when they have to poop during the game?"

Eventually, the game got under way. We lasted into the bottom of the 5th inning before William finally fessed up that he was tired and ready to go. We left with the Braves and Giants tied 1-1 and the vast majority of what appeared to be a sold out crowd still sitting in their seats, waiting to see how the game would turn out.

As we walked back to our car, the streets much less hectic than they were a few hours before, William reached up, took my hand, and said, "Thank you, Daddy, for taking me to the Braves game."

"You're welcome, Bud," I answered.

Once in our car, we listened to the game on the radio and recapped the best parts of the evening as we made the 45 minute trek back to Powder Springs. To my surprise, William DID NOT fall asleep on the ride home. I guess he was just too pumped. When we got to the house, Meredith walked out to meet us in the driveway. Although it was fast approaching midnight, she refused to go to bed without letting William have the chance to tell her all about his first Braves game.

Eagerly, William ran to his mother to display his new Brian McCann jersey. "See, Mom," he said, "I'm the Braves' catcher." Seeing William so happy and proud, Meredith couldn't help but get a little emotional. Her eyes actually teared up (much like mine did when I discovered that beers at the ballpark costs over $6). For the next fifteen minutes, Meredith and I sat in the kitchen and listened while William told his Mom all about the rain, the view from our seats, Chipper Jones hitting the ball, and how William, himself, is going to be an Atlanta Braves baseball player when he grows up. Then, it was off to bed.

As I helped William pull his sheets back and climb into bed, my son looked up at me and asked, "Daddy,can I sleep in my Braves shirt?"

"Sure, Sport," I answered. Then, taking William's Braves hat and placing it on his dresser next to the now used tickets, I tucked "Brian McCann" into bed, kissed my little baseball player on the forehead, and told him "Goodnight."

"Sleep, well, Bud," I said. Then, I turned to leave the room. Turning out the light I heard a small, tired voice say, "Daddy, can we go to another Braves game one day?"

"Sure, Son," I said, "We'll definitely go again."

"Good," William said, "I like going to Braves games with you."

"I like going with you too, Sport."

And, with that, I closed the door and we called it an evening--our first Daddy-William baseball game in the books. Unfortunately, we discovered the next day that Atlanta had lost to San Francisco 3-2 in extra innings. But that's okay. It was still my son's first Braves game. It's a night I'll always remember. I hope he'll always remember it too. And, who knows, maybe the next time we go, the Braves will win, the rain won't fall, we'll finally know what baseball players do when they have to poop during a game, and I'll be more emotionally prepared to pay over six bucks for a ballpark beer.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Let the Little Children Come (Just Don't Put 'em on the Front Row)

According to the Bible, there was an episode in which the disciples tried to prevent a group of little children from reaching Jesus. The scriptures say that Jesus rebuked the disciples, telling them to "let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."

Yesterday, as I sat in church with my wife and kids, it occurred to me why Jesus wasn't afraid to let the little children approach him. It's because Jesus had the power to cast out demons and banish them to hell. I, unfortunately, do not. Thus, unlike the Lord, I find it rather challenging to maintain a spiritual focus, resist sin, and stay close to God while being climbed on, clinged to, cried to, and screamed at by "unhindered" little folk who, based on every biblical description I've ever read, show all the signs of being possessed by spirits bent on destroying a father's righteousness.

How else do you explain the fact that I can read my Bible, pray, and feel enthusiastic about trying to live as a disciple of Christ first thing in the morning, only to find myself mumbling curse words and losing my patience before the clock even strikes noon. Jesus maintained his sinlessness after forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. I can't even make it through one breakfast during summer vacation.

Church, itself, is always an interesting adventure. Take, for instance, yesterday's worship. We got to church shortly after the service had started. By the time we arrived, the only seats left were on the front row. Just a heads up to anyone who serves as an usher at their church. If you're looking for a way to totally disrupt your church service and mess with whoever is speaking from the pulpit, make sure you reserve the front row for couples with four kids under the age of seven. Few things "encourage" a public speaker more than the sight of a four-year-old picking his nose or the sound of a tiny voice screaming, "My toy! My toy! My toy!" as one tries to welcome the congregation or help people commune with God in prayer.

Then, there's always the fun the song leader has as he attempts to lead the singing of "Blessed Assurance" while cheerios fly from the front seats. If you look closely you can see the beads of sweat forming on the poor, insecure soul's forehead as he mistakes the flying cereal of a toddler for the cruel heckling of some dissatisfied parishioner.

Perhaps the most fun was yesterday's Communion. As the young man doing the Communion message stepped to the mic to share thoughts intended to focus our hearts and minds on the sacrifice of our Lord, I tried to separate and scold arguing siblings as subtly as possible. While a more spiritual man than I was reminding the church of Christ's grace and forgiveness, I was preaching Old Testament to my kids, assuring them of the wrath and judgment to come if they didn't quit arguing, complaining, and pulling on one another's hair.

To my children's credit, they pulled it together--at least as much as kids that age can. After all, let's face it, while Communion is important and very meaningful to an adult Christian, it's basically a confusing snack time to small children. As a parent, I do my best to explain that Communion is when we symbolically partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But kids often don't get it. Once, when my son, William, saw how small the crackers and servings of juice were, he looked at me disappointed and said, "Jesus must have been really small."

Eventually, the length and the structure of the Communion service was too much for my three youngest. Despite their best efforts, the "demons" began to return, so I exited with them as unnoticed as I could into the foyer before the "bread and wine" were actually served.

Once out of the room, my boys and their little sister began running crazy, my calls of "Calm down!" going unheeded as rambunctious little gremlins zigged and zagged in and out of tables set with food for the post-service potluck lunch . Envisioning the lasagnas and chocolate cakes that would soon be on the floor if I didn't do something, I chased down my little ones while four-letter words that weren't "Amen" raced through my sinful mind. (Hey, I'm just being honest.) Then, finally cornering my kids at one end of the room, I maneuvered back and forth like a soccer goalie at the World Cup, preventing anyone under four feet tall from scooting past me until Communion was over and it was finally time for Sunday School.

In short, Church is not a relaxing, meditative, or reflective time when you have small kids. In fact, at times, you're tempted to wonder if it's counter-productive. The effort and stress of getting four kids fed, teeth-brushed, dressed, and out the door, combined with the energy and anxiety involved in trying to keep them in check during the actual service, often means that, by the time the sermon starts and my kids are in class, my heart and mind are actually filled with ten times more sin than when I woke up that morning. At the very least, it's enough to make me wish we served real wine during the Lord's Supper.

Still, I think church is worth it. It allows my wife and I to fellowship with friends and other parents like ourselves. It provides a place where we can get much appreciated help raising our children to know about and love God. Most of all, it's a family--God's family. We don't go and participate because it's easy or convenient (it's not). We also don't participate because of what the church can do for us or our family (although we do benefit, we occasionally get hurt too). No, we go because it's a place where God wants us to give. Just like I desire my kids to want to be around one another and show kindness and love to each other, God wants his children to do the same. The purpose of church is to go and serve others, encourage others, and be available to others. In a crazy way, even our struggles as parents help serve the church. For all I know, some other young couple with kids witnessed the madness we were dealing with yesterday and thought, "You know what, if they can do it, then we can too."

So we'll keep going to church. I'll keep trying to be more spiritual. We'll do our best to hold it together during Communion. And--God willing--the ushers won't put us on the front row.