I was a freshman in High School at Edna Karr in New Orleans, Louisiana, I played basketball and like all 15 year old boys, I was going to play in the NBA! (HA) Well, my family didn’t have the heart to tell me 5’10” uncoordinated white boys don’t make it to the NBA. So they sent me to basketball camp at Baylor University. No doubt hoping it would give me a dose of reality. So, for a week I played with some of the best in the country… and some of the worst. There were 8 young men there who were prospective recruits for Baylor. (I thought there were 9) You could tell because they got special treatment and they were better than everyone else. I was not one of those. (I thought I was one)
When my Dad dropped me off he said, “work hard, have fun.” So I did. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar: at basketball camp, the first day there are try-outs and you are divided into evenly matched teams (well, as much as you can be). Throughout the week your team plays all the others and at the end of the week there is a tournament.
My team made it to the championship, which meant that Dad would be there to see the game.
As Dad walked in, I saw him take a seat in the stands and adjust his large frame to a comfortable position, then he waved. Not a big sissy wave like moms do… a manly wave… You know… the type of wave that is almost a salute… the type of wave that says, “carry on soldier.” I nodded in a very professional manor, in recognition of my commission to carry on, and returned to my focused stance as a point guard. On the inside I was a nervous wreck! My Dad had been a great athlete when he was young, and I only wanted to make him proud. My brothers were great athletes and I was a bit of a runt comparatively (they liked to lift weights and I liked art… enough said). In my mind, this one game could validate my entire existence. The great man in the stands was watching and my entire joy was wrapped up in his approval. The game didn’t matter. All that mattered to me was the man in the stands. I wanted so desperately to prove myself to him and I was convinced that I could do this best by obliterating my opponents!
I played amazingly! I made every shot, hit miraculous assists, and out hustled everyone! Yet, with all my efforts, we lost. I was crushed. It seemed, even on my best day, I would not be able to prove myself to the great man I so admired. I slumped off the court, hiding the tears that so naturally came in great defeat, and walked to meet Dad in the hallway of the stadium. I don’t even remember looking up, I just remember him putting his arm around my shoulder and guiding me out to the car.
We drove to a Mexican restaurant, Dad loved food and when it was just he and I we ate more unhealthy than usual. We sat down and the chips were served. Dad began, “that was GREAT playing John. You obviously learned a lot at camp!” I shyly responded, “yeah, I guess it was ok. I worked hard.” At this point was when I looked up. The first thing I saw was my Dad’s face. He was looking at me with such joy. He reached for a chip and dipped it in the queso he had ordered. (Whenever mom was not there we got queso!) His smile was huge and his eyes seemed to glow. It was at that moment I realized, he loved me. He didn’t love my abilities or the potential of who I could become… no, he loved ME. On my BEST DAY I could not measure up to the ideal. And to think, he loved me on my worst days, which far out numbered my best. When I looked into my Dad’s eyes, all the failures in the world melted away. All my successes became nothing. And I knew… He loved me. We had a great ride back to New Orleans! We ate great food and had wonderful conversation.
In this Dad showed me Christ. On my best day I don’t measure up and my worst days always overpower my best days. And yet, he loves me on my worst days. This is the love of Christ, all our successes are nothing, never mind the failures! And yet… His love remains. We are caught up in a joyous relationship that is simply marvelous!