Backyard Classic

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Sportscaster Joe Buck has been sidelined with the postponement of the Major League Baseball season.  The legendary play-by-play announcer has been looking for opportunities to stay in the game.  Let’s join Joe Buck, live on the air.

Good afternoon baseball fans!  Coming from the home of Billy and Tony Bennett is today’s Backyard Home Run Derby.

This amazing duo will be challenging each other as pitcher and batter with a whiffle ball and bat.  While most of the sporting world has been silent with their contests, these two brothers have definitely discovered their niche.

Billy has been assigned as the pitcher in today’s contest.  His assignment will be to prevent any and all home runs.  His brother, Tony . . . yes, he’s named after the famous crooner . . . will be stepping into the batter’s box to crush one of Billy’s fastballs out of the park.

Let’s set the scene.  The Bennett’s backyard is a formidable challenge for both pitcher and batter.  Home plate is located in the corner of the yard up next to the house.  The pitcher’s mound is tucked behind Mom’s favorite rose bushes.  The outfield fence is lined with a forest of Lombardy poplar trees . . . the wall looks quite reminiscent of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster.”

Billy stands ready on the mound to face Tony.  Freddie, their neighbor friend, has volunteered to be both the catcher and the umpire.

Tony steps into the batter’s box.  He looks all set.

From behind the roses, Billy winds up with his first pitch.  “Strike One!”

Tony watches the fleeting fastball cross the plate without even taking a swing.  I guess he’s sorting out the speed of Tony’s stuff.

Billy receives his sign from Freddie.  The pitch is on its way.

Swing and a miss.  “Strike Two!”

Tony steps out of the batter’s box.  What’s this?

Defiantly, he points his bat toward the massive outfield wall.  Yes folks, Tony is calling his shot just like the Babe did at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series between the powerful Yankees and the upset-minded Cubs.

Tony steps back into the batter’s box, digging both feet into the plush, green grass.

Billy takes the sign from Freddie.  It looks like another fastball will be on its way.

Here’s comes the pitch.

[Crack of the bat crushing the ball]

Deep to center field.  Is it enough?  Gone!!

Easily clearing the majestic center field wall . . . a tape measure shot into the next yard . . . splashing into the Snyder’s backyard swimming pool.  Mickey Mantle would be proud!

There you have it baseball fans.  Tony is one up in today’s Backyard Home Run Derby.

We will pause for a commercial break while the game ball is retrieved from its watery splashdown.  We’ll be right back with more of this backyard classic.

 

Discovering Success

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This is a true story about one of my former students.  I was teaching at a high school in the Bitterroot Valley in western Montana.

A disgruntled John entered my classroom on the first day of school.  The senior was enrolled in an Accounting class with a room full of other seniors as well as a sprinkling of juniors.

As I was checking in later with each student, John bluntly told me, “I didn’t sign up for this class.”

I told John, “I am sorry to hear about this, but this class is a great one to take.  I am looking forward to having you as a student.”

John quickly replied back, “The counselor dumped me in here because I need the credit to graduate.”

John’s stubbornness left him with a poor attitude.  His first quarter grade was well below passing as he completed very little of the work.  He continued to balk as each new chapter showed up on the class syllabus.

I visited with John’s mother, and she was quite concerned.  She had her hands full with John’s noncompliant attitude as well.

An Accounting course works quite a bit like a math class.  As each week progresses, students continue to add more building blocks of skill and knowledge related to the previous chapter.  John was falling further and further behind.

During the second grading period, John began to show a tiny bit more interest in his performance.  After all, he needed to earn a passing grade by the end of the first semester in order to receive credit.

I was beginning to see John’s potential which had been buried under the “chip on his shoulder” about school in general.  Through it all, I could see that John was a sharp young man.  Therefore, we just needed to find more ways to unlock his potential.

As the semester ended, John squeaked by with a passing grade . . . just barely!

Quote from British writer, C. S. Lewis:  “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down the jungles, but to irrigate the deserts.”

I remained patient with John as the second semester began.  He seemed more eager to discover himself when he returned to school after Christmas break.  I continued to encourage him each day, and made an effort to touch base with him frequently.  As the next few weeks continued, we both began to build an improved relationship based upon trust and respect.

As the third grading period progressed, John began to see the light.  He was excited about class in ways I had never seen before.  There was a genuine enthusiasm in his work as well as his much improved attitude.  His failing marks were being replaced with A’s and B’s.

By the end of the third quarter, John was a solid “B” student in Accounting.  He pulled me aside and told me one day, “I am really enjoying your class.  In fact, I am thinking of taking business courses at college next year.”

He continued to excel and progress through the rest of the school year.  I visited with John’s mother before graduation, and she was very proud of her son’s progress.  He had matured beyond even her expectations.

In my short teaching career (I was in my fifth year), I had never witnessed such a turnaround as experienced by John.  It was amazing and very gratifying to see a student literally catch fire and take off.  At the end of the school year, John received my “Most Improved” award.  John encouraged me with his own discovery of success.

This story captures the essence of why I found countless rewards from teaching over my 40-year career.  I lost track of John long ago, but I feel assured his life turned out quite well.

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Knock at the Door

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Here’s a true story from my past memories.  I have never forgotten this one after all of these years.  Hmm . . .  who is knocking at the front door?

The boys had just returned home from a busy day at their elementary school.  Their walk home never took too long since they lived right across the street from Central Heights Elementary School.

Being a snowy, winter day, everyone wore their black, buckled snow boots (or overshoes).  The boys’ mother always carefully labeled the inside of their boots with each boy’s name on a piece of white tape.

Nearly everyone at school wore very similar boots. The boots slipped easily over their shoes in keeping them clean and dry.

A soft knock could be heard at the front door.  The boys’ mother looked out and could see a little girl waiting impatiently outside.  She knocked again.

The mother opened the door, and was immediately greeted with a firm and loud exclamation, “Richard, has my boots!

The woman looked down at the girl’s black boots, and they were very similar to what the boys wore . . . black in color with buckles.  Not many girls wore black overshoes, and she was wearing an older winter coat, probably a hand-me-down.

The mother introduced herself, and asked the girl’s name.  Robin lived a couple of blocks away

She politely asked Robin, “How do you know Richard has your boots?”

Robin replied with her firm, confident voice, “Because his name was written on the label inside of these boots.  I figured he must have put on the wrong boots after school.”  She had taken off the boots and was holding them in her hands.

The mother called for her son, and Richard came to the door.  The girl explained the situation to him, and he sheepishly went back inside to check the boots he had worn home.  Sure enough, the worn and faded label inside of each boot read, “Robin A.”

Richard brought Robin’s boots to the door, and he made the exchange with her.  Robin pulled the boots over her shoes so she could continue on her walk home.

This winter day was probably one neither Robin nor Richard would forget.  While their lives pretty much went their separate ways, they graduated from high school in the same year.

Even today, Richard has sometimes wondered if Robin would remember the story of the mixed-up snow boots.

vintage 1960's rubber galoches / black rubber boots / overshoes ...

Here’s a nearly identical pair of black, buckled overshoes similar to the ones worn during my elementary school days.  (Found on Pinterest)

On a Street Corner

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It is mid-morning on a nearly empty street corner in a remote, medium-sized town when Milt runs into one of his best friends, Fred.  Little do these two men know, but their improbable rendezvous will bring both of them inner strength and hope.

Both men are in their eighties, but each is blessed with good health.  Being retired, they don’t always have a chance to catch up on news.

Milt is a widower, who lost his beloved Sharon several years back.  Fred’s lovely wife, Judy, struggles with many chronic health concerns.

The two friends continue to visit on the deserted street corner.  Milt tells Fred, “I am really concerned about this virus news.”  As he speaks, both men realize they need to stand a bit farther apart due to reminders in the news about social distancing.

Milt replies back, “Me, too.  I guess we have lots of company.”  Both men have been overly cautious about being safe with their exposure to the disease.

Fred shares news from home about his bride of 61 years.  He continues talking to Milt, “I am really worried about Sharon.  Her health is very fragile, and I hope she can weather the storm ahead with this virus out there.”

Milt looks across at his friend, and he sees the deep worries of concern and anxiety in Fred’s face.  Milt asks, “May I pray for you?”  Milt nods in agreement.

In closing the prayer, Milt shares a special prayer with his long-time friend:  “God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Before the men depart and continue with their day’s journey, Fred shares a verse from one of his favorite Psalms (27:1):  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

The Serenity Prayer was originally written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.  The most common version of the prayer was published in 1951, but Niebuhr used variations of the prayer in sermons as early as 1934.  In the story, Milt adapted the prayer to fit the situation.

Summer Hammock

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Under the shade of a massive oak tree, Fred relaxes in his backyard hammock while enjoying a perfect summer afternoon.

A slight, friendly breeze helps to keep the bugs away, and Fred always thinks better when he spends time in his comfortable hammock.  He looks up into the canopy of branches in the tree above, and his eyes begin following an intensely busy squirrel which is scurrying back and forth . . . back and forth.

Fred’s thoughts begin to wander as he imagines his own creation of the “perfect” treadmill.  While his model will have the usual cup holder, he will add a necessary tray for his pepperoni pizza.

Thinking . . . How can a person calculate how much wood a woodchuck could chuck, if he could really chuck wood?

Worried about an upcoming family reunion, he recalls telling his close friend, Wally, “How will I remember all of their names?”

Wally confidently replies, “Easy, just call everyone ‘cousin.’”

Remembering his granddaughter’s wedding reception last summer, he asks his wife, Doris, to dance.  He tells her, “They’re playing our favorite song.”

It takes the couple a little longer to arrive on the dance floor, and the song is nearly half over.  Fred calls out to the DJ, “Play it again Sam!”

Several minutes go by.  The “always in a hurry” squirrel pauses and thinks to himself, “What is that noise?”

Looking down, he spies Fred blissfully sleeping and dreaming, and his loud snoring serenades the entire backyard with . . . well, almost charming tunes.

Trusting in the Lord

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The teenage boy has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer for months.  Mark has shown the unwavering courage of a young man who follows God without flinching.

His pastor, Wayne, visits Mark one afternoon.  The teen has been at the hospital for several days as he is undergoing another round of treatments to battle his cancer.  Wayne wants to share some of God’s Word with this courageous teenager.

Mark’s hair is gone.  His slender frame looks even thinner than Wayne remembers.  His young body is marshalling all of its resources to battle the foe within.

Mark’s bubbling smiles lights up when Wayne walks into his room.  He is thrilled to have a visitor stopping by.

To prevent transmitting any germs or infections, Wayne is gowned up.  He looks more like a skilled doctor than a pastor.

After several minutes of conversation, Mark surprises his pastor by sharing a verse from Proverbs 3:5:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”

The fourteen year-old’s faith under such harsh circumstances is truly remarkable.

At the end of his visit, Wayne asks if he can pray over Mark.  Mark quietly says, “Certainly!”  The two of them share a few moments in prayer.

Walking down the hallway after leaving Mark’s room, Wayne thinks to himself, “I feel like Mark has ministered to me.  I come to bolster his spirits, yet he is the one who reminds me to always trust in God.”

This story is based on a true life experience of a fourteen year-old boy.  An entire community has rallied around him as he continues to battle cancer.  He recently shared the verse from Proverbs in a video which has been shared with many believers.  His witness to his Lord is inspiring indeed.  God’s peace.  

Midnight Smorgasbord

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I woke up in the middle of the night last week.  A muffled series of sounds were coming from the kitchen, and no doubt my beautiful wife was up to something.

She had been fasting all day after we both enjoyed a pleasant mid-morning brunch., and now her hunger harshly interrupted her need for sleep.

I rose out of bed and began to creep silently toward the kitchen.

In the meantime, my wife was in the process of raiding the fridge for a midnight smorgasbord.  She had laid out a scrumptious feast on the kitchen counter with all kinds of tasty treasures.

She selected only three items, and was more than ready to sample a scrumptious, fried chicken leg and a cold piece of her favorite pepperoni pizza.

As I approached the kitchen, the only light was coming from the still-open refrigerator.  As I slipped unannounced into the kitchen, my wife’s midnight buffet was consuming into its final course . . .  dessert of course!

She was enjoying her final choice . . . a slice of decadent triple chocolate cake.

She turned and was shocked to see me up at this midnight hour (since I am usually a very sound sleeper).  She confidently told me, “I’m not night eating.  It’s time for ‘nunch.’”

With her mouth full, she asked, “Please pass me another slice of this yummy cake?”

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