Come with me as DW submits a story a month for your enjoyment.
Our December story was about Christmas, of course, and it’s underneath today’s feature. Today it’s “Tattered Baseballs.” Next month we may have an after Christmas story titled “Ichobod, Scrooge’s Brother.”
by DW Grant
Today every zero on little David’s 4th grade math paper is a baseball. Baseballs fly in each corner of his paper. The “I” in his name is dotted with a baseball, and a note at the top center of the page tells his teacher “Today is Baseball Day!” As if Mr. Bell couldn’t tell.
At recess this morning, while tossing rocks through the chain-link fence, little David’s best friend Charlie, tells him to not be afraid of the ball. “It only stings for a minute.” He should know. Charlie is the best pitcher and hitter in Little League. Charlie is pitching today, so David is ready.
David is ready to sit on the bench, or be sent way out into right field where no ball ever goes. Position doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care that he is afraid of the ball and freezes at the plate. A walk gets him on base, and keeps his batting average at 1000. He doesn’t care that balls falling out of the sky are enemy bombs he would rather avoid than try to catch. They don’t often come his way anyway. David sits on the bench and cheers for his buddies. He’s on the team. He’s a winner.
A few years later David plays football with his buddies on the school lawn and somehow catches a pass and runs for a touchdown. It is as great a day for him as this one is bad. Even more years later David kisses his bride at the altar and it is another day as great as this one is bad. And even more years later David wakes up in a hospital bed and is told he had been in a coma for a couple of weeks, but he is alive, and everyone is glad. That is a day as good as this day is bad.
On this bad day, Baseball Day, in a corner of the dugout, the team manager tells David to go home. He’s not good enough to play for a team that had lost 13 straight games. Nothing in David’s life would be has bad as this day, though there will be many contenders. David walks home with a crushed soul that will stay wounded and bleed onto every day he lives. It begins scabbing his thoughts right away.
Walking through the desert canyons on the way home, David decides he doesn’t care about baseball any more. The Dodgers are playing in the World Series this year, but he doesn’t care. Maybe he’ll keep rooting for his beloved LA Rams, but baseball is now “boring.”
David stops playing with his buddies in the canyons around his house. Fights in the schoolyard replace rock throwing, and he never talks to Charlie again. Nobody asks David why he is sad and angry. He thinks no cares. But somebody does, even more than his mama.
That person shows up at the best and worst times. He invisibly comforts David after he takes a beating in the school yard, and he keeps him moving when he is stunned to a standstill by an embarrassing mistake. This person also diverts David from drugs, alcohol, and perverse females. And, again invisible to a certain point, he blessed David with a good family, and a few good friends.
One day that person becomes visible and fights for David’s life, rescuing him from terrors in the day and night. And then he pulls and pushes David until he finally accepts the sacrifice made for his soul. The rebirth is violent and brings a crazy peace from heaven. Then it brings a compassion for others going through the worst of times.
David will share love because he is loved. But that one bad memory remains, until the dream.
That dream comes in the last quarter of his long life. In the theatre of his soul David is standing at the fourth point of a Little League diamond, at Home plate. Jesus is standing on the running path leading to first base, and He is smiling. At the Son of God’s urging David turns his eyes to the dugout and beckons the baseball manager that sent him home so many years ago. The man sighs and slowly walks to David’s side. Jesus walks to the man and puts his arm around him. They look in each other’s eyes, then they look at David.
David asks the manager. “Will you teach me how not to be afraid?”
The manager nods and hands David a bat. “It only stings a little,” he says.
Charlie is on the pitcher’s mound. He throws a curve ball.
David swings and a ball flies deep into right field where balls never go.
After circling the bases, David accepts a hug from Jesus, and then tells the manager “I forgive you.”
The three, David and Jesus and the manager hug each other, and two crushed souls suddenly knit together and expands like a collapsed lung filling with air. Both the manager and David breath deeply, and the healing is done.
The Dodgers almost make it to The World Series 50 years later, and so does David, as he pursues bases he was afraid to run toward for years. The pain of the crushed soul is still there, but that pain has turned to compassion, and the anger has turned to resolution and persistence. The Bible called it “long suffering” that produces a harvest of blessings.
Will we play baseball in Heaven?
David believes he will be on the team.
SID, THE GRUMPIEST SHEPHERD
By DW Grant
Once on a not so silent night, upon a cold and windy mountain top, just outside Bethlehem, a little rain cloud drifted over to a shepherd’s fire, hovered for a moment, and then let go. As it was a small but intense cloud, it didn’t have much to give, but what it gave it applied with a gusto that would have made a typhoon proud. With one little thunder clap and a long satisfying whoosh that made its edges turn pink, the deed was done; the fire was out, and the shepherd soaked.
“How wonderful to be me,” the cloud thought as it moved upward to collect more rising dew.
Throwing his hands in the air, Sid, the soaked shepherd, growled the same words. “How wonderful to be me.” Actually, Sid had been mumbling this same thing to himself for a couple of days, since his oldest brother assigned him to this duty just before the annual family feast.
His brother crowed to the rest of the family. “Sid, here, while the rest of us are recovering from our celebration, gets to watch the stars shine, listen to our precious sheep snore, and practice his ninja skills sitting on the top of Mt. Nebo. Sid! How wonderful to be you!”
The family cheered, and then went back to feasting. Sid wasn’t feeling it, however.
Sid grumped as his brother handed him the family shepherd’s staff. “Yes, how wonderful to be me,”
So here was unhappy Sid, sitting atop the mountain. Yes, the stars were shining, and the sheep were loud and snoring, but he was now wet and cold. Every bush and rock around him had already suffered through his ninja practice, so he closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
“Silent night, holy night, sure” he tried to think, but then somebody turned on the lights, and Sid had to open his eyes, and stand up.
The entire valley was now lit up like noon. Sheep were standing, frozen and shivering in fear, and Sid could see shepherds on the other hills standing and shivering too. The Angel’s first words did not help.
“Fear not!” it declared, a bit too loudly, making some of the sheep run away. Then the sky seemed to crowd up with glowing angels boisterously singing “Glory to God! Peace on Earth.” But there wasn’t much peace. More sheep ran, shepherds dove for cover, and the angel voices caused a mighty wind to blow more cold through Sid’s thin, wet, cloak.
But just as quickly it was over, the sky went dark again, and only one angel remained, to give instructions to a group of shepherds in the valley below.
Sid sat back down, closed his eyes, shivered a little, and growled. “I would like to meet an angel. How wonderful to be me.”
It wasn’t long before an older shepherd came climbing up the hill with a message.
“Sid! Sid!” he yelled all the way up. “Glory to God! And on Earth, peace!”
“Yes, I heard that before,” Sid grumbled when the elder finally reached him.
The elder was so excited and out of breath he could hardly get the words out. “There were angels!”
“I saw them,” flatly replied Sid.
“And they sang to us!” he declared, throwing his arms and hands up and doing a little jig.
“I heard them. They scared the sheep,” replied Sid.
“They gave us instructions,” said the elder, earnestly grabbing Sid’s wet cloak.
Sid mumbled, pulling away, and sat down. “Isn’t it great to be you.”
“We have to go to Bethlehem,” reported the elder. “All of us!”
“Do I gotta go too?” grumped Sid, shaking his head.
“Well, somebody has to stay put and watch the sheep,” replied the elder.
“And I guess that’s gotta be me,” sighed Sid.
“Well, they are a little scattered, and we must go right now. Be gentle with them. They are pretty scared,” instructed the elder.
So Sid stayed, until the mixed flocks of sheep got a little rowdy, and he felt it was time to move. He called the sheep, and they came and gathered around him.
“I guess I should take you all to Bethlehem and let your masters untangle you. Lucky me. ”
And so they left the valley and headed to Bethlehem, sheep bleating, and Sid complaining each time a sharp rock pierced his sandal, or a cold wind found its way through his wet cloak.
“How wonderful to be me,” he repeated each time he shivered, until the sheep got tired of hearing the grumbling and sent a representative to bite at his ankles when he said it.
“Stupid sheep. Stupid me,” he grumbled again and again, and each time got an ankle bite for it.
“Stupid sheep. Ouch. Stupid me. Ouch. How wonderful to be….ouch. Ouch!”
The edge of Bethlehem was a complete traffic jam, as hundreds of shepherds and their sheep, Bedouins and their camels, and all kinds of kings and royalty tried to push their way into town.
Here Sid turned around to talk to his sheep, but was dismayed to see as many travelers behind him as in front. “Well, I guess we’ll be here a while,” he said to the ram next to him.
A fellow traveler, with a dark complexion and wearing a jeweled headband, answered him. “
We’re in line to see a king! And we followed a star to get here! Look! It’s still leading us!”
Sid didn’t look up, but leaned over to rub a sore ankle, and rebuke a sheep that was just about to bite him.
He answered the other traveler with a grumpy “Really? You mean we’re in this line to see some fat old guy on a gold chair? Who needs a star? I just wanna get rid of a lot of these sheep!”
“No, the king is a baby! And we are bringing presents! I have smooth and sweet black cocoa beans from my mountains!
Another royal looking man interrupted. “And I have the most expensive salve my people could make. It’s healing ingredients bloom only once a year!”
Said a small boy holding a little girls hand. “All I have is my drum, and my sister her flute. I hope the family likes our music!”
Someone asked, “What did you bring, sir?”
“All I have is a few sheep, and most of them are not mine to give. Do I have to have a gift to get through this line and out the other side?”
A man on a camel reached down and touched Sid’s head. “Son, you give what you can. The gift’s worth comes from your heart!”
Sid still was not buying the entire scene or idea of giving. “Look, I’m just a poor shepherd, supposed to be watching my family’s flock. I got nothin’! I guess I’ll just…”
Suddenly, the man high up on the camel shouted. “Ahoy, my fellows. I don’t think we have far to go! I can see the Inn now! Hearts up, mates!”
And then the line moved fast up to the Inn. Sid just let he and his sheep be carried along.
Then they were there, standing in front of the Inn for an instant, then the line went right and down a hill. Sid found himself standing at the entrance to a little cave.
Someone shouted at him “Don’t stop there, that’s only where she gave birth. Keep moving, idiot!” And that person shouted again, as he did at everyone with animals. “Keep the critters outside!” and the sheep stayed in the field next to the Inn. There was music playing inside, a drum and a flute.
Sid asked himself “Why am I here?” And someone shouted “Your up next. Step up or get out!” and he found himself pushed into a little room where a mother and father sitting on the floor patiently nodded to him. The Inn Keeper was there again, pushing him. “That’s Mary. That’s Joseph. And that’s the baby king! He is only 6 months old, but he is a king! Bow you, idiot, bow!”
Even though he didn’t have a clue what to do or why this child was a king, Sid bowed anyway. And that’s when the baby king reached out touched him with his little middle finger.
Mary stroked the baby’s head as Sid felt a tingle of wonder from his toes to his heart to his head. It had been too long since Sid felt wonder, and fresh awakening moved him beyond his grumpiness to a memory.
For a moment Sid was dozing next to his mother’s heartbeat. It was warm and sure, and he let himself be lost in the wonder of that lovely moment. Then his skin bristled as his father’s voice rose and called him to his lap. In the next moment the strong voice read a holy scripture, and Sid, for the first time since childhood, felt part of the family again.
“Wonder” is that little boy or girl inside us who has been put in “time out” because we have been caught staring out the window, humming during a lecture, or drawing on a wall. We don’t even know how miserable we are without him or her, until that little us gets set free again, if only for a moment.
Joseph explained. “You have just been touched and graced by The Son of God, young sir. You are highly favored.”
Sid tried to object. “But I’m just the shepherd for the shepherds. I’m nothing. Why would a king want to touch me?”
Joseph continued. “One day he may tell you, but for now please know that ‘for God so loved the humble shepherd boy, Sid, that he gave his only Son so that Sid may have life and worth…”
Before Joseph could finish the Inn Keeper pushed Sid out the door and the next person into the room. “I gotta keep this rolling,” he mentioned to Sid quickly. “So many want to behold him.”
And that tingle stayed with Sid, and began to grow, even has he went looking for his sheep. The cold and the sheep didn’t bite as hard, the road didn’t cut his feet so bad, and the long walk didn’t seem so long, either. Eventually Sid met the other shepherds, who were none to happy to see him and their sheep in Bethlehem, and let him know their anger.
But even their anger couldn’t shake the good feelings Sid felt as he walked back to the fields, deposited his sheep in their pen, and finally found his way home.
“That baby king touched me,” he repeated to himself in wonder all that night. “How wonderful it is to be me”
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