Mike walked into our Sunday school class for the first time and immediately my eight-year-old mind went to work. Mike was ridiculously tall for an eight-year-old. His feet and hands were huge. He looked like a combination of three people: the body of a sixteen-year-old basketball player, the hands and feet of a twenty-three-year-old football player, and the face of an eight-year-old choir boy. He was shy, but all smiles.
Jodie and Melvin wanted to make fun of him, but I huddled them up and quickly reminded them how terrible our boy's basketball team for the church was. We needed Mike! So we started in with the smooth-talking, "Hey...Mike...buddy!"
Being incredibly skilled at transparency, my first question was, "Mike, do you play basketball?"
His answer startled me. He smiled and said, "Nope. I've never tried."
Never tried? This was alarming news to a boy who slept with a basketball, played basketball all day until darkness hid the rim, dribbled the basketball in the garage waiting for it to stop raining, and used every curtain rod and tennis ball in the house for an imaginary basketball game.*
Big deal. Michael had never played basketball before. He was only eight. How hard could it be to teach him what he needed to know?
You'd be surprised.
It was quite a challenge. Mike was so strong, he didn't shoot the ball, he launched it. His body had grown so fast that he was still catching up to it. His reactions were slower than a turtle race on slo-mo instant replay. His strength was greater than his mind could process. His feet were so big, he couldn't run. He galloped in a painful lumbering motion that looked like it hurt. It was like watching Elaine Benes dance.
He nearly wore out the center part of the court. By the time he almost got on the defensive end of the floor, we had the ball and were heading to our goal. As everyone passed by him, he would turn around and head to the offensive end. Shortly after he turned around, we were running back to play defense.
By the time our first game came around, our coach realized that Mike was a work in progress so he left Mike on the bench. It didn't hurt Mike's feelings at all. He was happy to be on the team and was proud of his FBBO jersey (First Baptist, Bevil Oaks...though the other churches thought it stood for Funny Boy Body Odor).
The game I remember most was a game against FBB (First Baptist, Beaumont). They were the rich kids. They had the high dollar brand new Pony shoes, four sweat bands on each arm, and shiny jerseys with their names stitched on the back. They were one of the few churches that had a gym in those days, so we always played them on their home turf.
Yes, it was church basketball. But it was all-out war. All we ever wanted was to beat FBB. But FBB was not about to lose to a backwoods church from the bayou. We were whistled for fouls every twenty seconds. If we got close to one of their players, it was a foul. Yet they could knock us over, take the ball, and run to the other end of the court and score without a whistle being blown.
I was the second one on our team to foul out. Eventually, all five starters fouled out and Michael was sent into the game. Bless his heart. He tried. He was such a big teddy bear. The boys from the other team were scared of him at first. But Mike's smile gave away the purity of his heart and they eventually started pushing him around.
Mike let them. Though a hundred times stronger and a foot taller, he let them run into him, knock him down, and push him around.
Our coach called time-out. Coach encouraged Mike to keep his ski---his feet planted and not let them push him around. And because Mike couldn't keep up with the speed of the game, Coach told Mike to stand close to the other team's goal and not let them drive in for a layup. Mike smiled and nodded.
Sure enough, Mike stood where Coach told him to stand. But he just smiled at the other team as they went around him and scored. I was about to snap. Not at Mike. I loved Mike. Mike and I had become buddies. Mike was the kindest, most gentle kid I'd ever met. He would do anything for me. I was just tired of seeing them score over and over and make taunting gestures at my buddy.
As Mike stood under the other team's goal, the rest of our team had the ball on our end of the floor and were trying to run a play. One of the players from the other team stole the ball. He was the biggest "show-off" on their team. He had been teasing Mike and making fun of him since Mike first smiled at him.
When "Show-off" stole the ball, there were only ten seconds left in the game. He drove the ball right toward Mike. Mike just stood there, smiling at him. I'd had enough. I yelled, "Mike, hit him!"
Let's hit the pause button on the action for a second. In my eight-year-old church-basketball-playing mind, when I said, "Hit him," I envisioned Mike stepping in front of the show-off, standing his ground, and having some type of bodily contact that would either be called a foul or a charge.
Mike's mind took a more literal route.
Mike looked at me as if I was his commanding officer and I had just given him a direct, yet puzzling command. But a command it was, and he was determined to carry it out. After he looked at me, he looked at the show-off. The smile on Mike's face was replaced by a furrowed brow and tight lips. Mike's right man-hand drew up in a fist big enough to cover "Show-off's" entire face. Mike pulled that mighty fist back and let it fly.
The show was over for "Show-off." Mike's punch landed squarely and "Show-off" reversed his motion and landed flat on his back.
I was amazed at how quickly everyone's eyes went from the floor to the bench. EVERYONE was looking at me...especially Coach. The blood left my face and I shrugged my shoulders as I pleaded my case, "I didn't mean 'HIT HIM' like that!"
After that game, I quit trying to make Mike into my image of what I thought he should be. It was reassuring to have a huge friend who responded so well to my commands. But I gave up the plans I had for him because it was what I wanted...not what Mike wanted.
Since then, I've learned a great deal about plans. Not only have I learned that I cannot decide or coerce the plans of other people's lives, I've learned to feed my own plans and agendas for my life into the shredder, too. Why?
Life's not about me. I'm not here for me. Life's about purpose. If my life has a purpose, then there must be a Purposer. In fact, there is. God created me and you for a purpose. God has plans for you. Awesome plans. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
I command no one. I am called to surrender, submit, and serve. Lest you think that sounds icky, let me assure you -- it is the greatest place and path that any of us can be in or on. To be where and who God made you to be is indescribably fulfilling.
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, NIV).
Don't worry. I won't hit you. Unless God tells me to. So far, He hasn't. Even when I've tried to talk Him into it.
Hopefully, Mike's learned the same lesson I have. I hope you have, too. Let God be your guide. He has the plans and knows the way.
Oh, and if you see a guy my age with an unusually large nose, would you tell him, "Perry's sorry."
*Curtain rod basketball with a tennis ball is fun. The curtain rod is at just the right distance from the wall to allow a tennis ball to squeeze between it. Some of the best dunks of my life were in a living room. Enjoy!