While everyone else is eagerly sprinting up and down the court, dribbling with earnest diligence, he writhes and wiggles across the floor. He isn't here because he loves the feel of the brownball's leather dimples under his palms. It's just that he'd rather be here than home. The tiny apartment he shares with his mother and four siblings offers little in the way of entertainment. At least a night of basketball means a night out in the gym, a friendly smile, and a snack at the end...if he can behave himself long enough.
She stares with resolve towards the basket. Hers isn't a natural ability but rather a steady improvement gained from a quiet determination. Weeks ago when she first started coming out she would hardly crack a smile, let alone look anyone in the eye. Now that she feels more among friends than strangers her icy facade is beginning to melt. When I caught her smiling, I teased her about it and instead of clamming back up, her face lit up with natural delight.
These are just two of the many faces that I've had the privilege of working with the past few weeks while involved with a group bringing basketball clinics to a local low-income/immigrant neighborhood. Monday night we held the finale for our first session. I'm not sure who's going to miss it more, the kids or me.
Though I claim Christianity as my faith, it is my desire that people see more of Jesus Christ in me than religion. While my faith is so foundational to all that I do and believe in my life, it is Jesus Himself who is the foundation of my life. It is by following His example to love others and to share the wealth that He has entrusted to me that first prompted my involvement with this group. But it was the realization of the old adage, "'Tis more blessed to give than to receive", gained from my experience that keeps me coming back for more.
Besides the basic basketball drills we instruct the kids on, we also offer lessons on life, teaching basic essentials of character development. Lessons in self-discipline, generosity, respect, perseverance, and integrity, qualities that help us excel not only on the court but off as well.
For our last lesson, we shared the secret to joy. It was not a self-help version of "How to Get Happy", but rather how to have joy despite the circumstances of our lives. Believe me, if anyone had an excuse for despair or discontentment, it would be these kids. With many coming from broken homes, all wearing raggedy hand me downs, and having little hope for change, these children represent some of the poorest and disadvantaged youth in our city. It isn't enough that we bring some temporary reprieve from their current situations. We wanted to offer them something that would last them to infinity and beyond. We shared with them the words of Jesus, the words that offered the free gift of eternal life. Apart from Jesus, there is simply glimmers of hope, mirages of change, and a plethora of distractions that give but temporary happiness.
A man much smarter than me and not so given to attempts at waxing eloquent, put it in terms much easier for kids who dream of one day becoming the next NBA star. He put it like this, using a name and face all too familiar to kids and basketball fans of all ages: "Imagine if Kobe Bryant was playing in a championship game. In this game he plays his heart out, hoping to walk away with the coveted trophy. He passes and rebounds, blocks and defends but never scores a single point. Yet because of his hard work, his teammates are given the opportunity to score and the rival team is frustrated at their every attempt. In the end Kobe's team wins the championship! Now, imagine another scenario where Kobe keeps the ball to himself and shoots every chance he gets. He is the highest scoring player of the game but his team loses despite his personal achievements. Kobe would walk away the loser." This brilliant analogy reflects the truth Jesus spoke, "
These are the lessons of life and basketball. On the court it's "Be like Mike", but in life it's "Be like Jesus". Wherever you find yourself, with whatever resources God has blessed you with, won't you reach out and be Jesus to those in need?
Be His hands. Just don't blame Him if your dribble ain't so good!
Thanks, Dad, for the brilliant analogy! :O)