Guest Post: Laced Up in Adversity

Today’s guest post is written by one of my grandsons, who enjoys playing club and high school soccer.  He has allowed me to share his story with you.  Enjoy a look at his personal journey.

The budding writer and determined middle fielder defending against an opponent in the spring of 2017. Note the stocking hat, it was a cold and damp day.

July, 2014

“Can I just keep playing football instead,” I asked as I started to feel adversity in my path to the NFL.  My face was contorted with confusion and frustration, as no matter what I said, my parents came up with an answer to contradict my arguments.  “There are small people who play football too!”  My mom replied calmly, “I just don’t think it’s safe for you to be playing football, with all of the injuries that could happen, and especially because you’re smaller.”  My dad then explained all about how I could be a great soccer player, with how fast and athletic I was.  As the dreaded conversation lagged on, I felt my hopes and dreams draining out the window, the aspiration to go to the NFL fading, the whole world seeming to crush on top of my little 8 year old self.  “Okay, I guess I’ll try it,” I said gloomily. Little did I know how much those few words could impact my whole future and how it would play out.

***

December 13, 2019 (10:30 AM)

The Super Y League Finals. In Florida.  On the best complex I’ve ever played.  This is the real deal.  My inner thoughts poured inside my brain as I started to feel the magnitude of the situation.  As I sat there in the car with my dad, my hands were fidgeting with nervousness and excitement, the anticipation getting to me.  I started to lace up my black Adidas cleats, reminding myself that I have a job to do on the field, reminding myself to work as hard as I can, and reminding myself to tackle the task in front of me.  “Hey bud,” my dad began.  “Are you nervous?”  “Yeah, quite a bit,” I replied.  A short pause.  “Hey, don’t worry about those small mistakes.  If you make a bad pass, go back and get the ball back.  If you get beat on defense, recover and work hard to get the ball back.  All you can do is work as hard as you can and put in 110% in everything you do.  And that’s not just on the soccer field.  That’s also in school, in church, and how you act on a daily basis.  You’ll face adversity in life, but sometimes you just have to take on that adversity head on.” Now a bit more motivated, my laces all tight and snug, I stepped out of the car.  The Florida sun was already beaming onto me, opening up pores where sweat was impatiently waiting to be released.  The bright green Bermuda grass was cut short, with mowing lines still imprinted on the pitch. Despite having about 45 minutes till kickoff, a couple of my teammates were already there, nervously chatting about what could be the biggest few games we’ve played as a team so far.  “Let’s go,” I said to myself as I stepped onto the field, making my way towards my teammates.  The pressure of the game has gotten to my head, adversity staring in front of me again, waiting to be fought.

***

September, 2014

        The tires of the white Honda Pilot rumbled along the gravel road towards a small grass field surrounded by a dense forest.  While making our way towards the field, my heart started beating a bit faster. This is going to be much different than football practice, I thought to myself.  “You’ll be fine out there.  You’re fast.  You’re athletic.  All of the players had to learn at one point,” my mom noted, almost reading my mind at that moment.  I got out of the car with Jack, one of my closest friends, to try this whole soccer thing out with his team.  My new bright yellow cleats, still clutched in my hand waiting to be put on, were reflecting off the bright sunshine as I walked nervously to greet what will be my new teammates and friends in the future.  Going up to the coach, Jack talks first:  “Hey coach Lazaro, this is Caden.  He’s just here to practice and see how he feels about soccer.”  “Nice to meet you Caden.  Alright, let’s see if you can play.”  I, being a shyer person, was quiet during the introduction, unsure what to think about the coach, and the situation as a whole.  Now putting on those yellow Nike cleats, I felt a sliver of hope, feeling that this could be the sport I end up playing, the sport that develops me as a person, and the sport that grows me physically, mentally, and spiritually.

***

December 13, 2019 (11:30 AM)

Barcelona United was warming up on the side of the field, preparing for the first match of the infamous Super Y League Finals. Nervousness was visible in the teammates’ appearance, contrasting with the fire in each and every one of their eyes.  In spite of the pressure of the game, I knew that I still had a job to do on the field and to overcome the challenge the game entails.  With 5 minutes left until the game starts, Coach Ika (my 2nd coach I played for at Barcelona United) called us back over to the bench.

 “Alright, this is it.  This is what all of our blood, sweat, and tears all came together for.  I’ve seen how good this team can play.  In fact, I believe that we can be one of the best teams in the country, but that’s only if we work together as a team, and everyone plays their role to the fullest.  Wingers, stay wide and make runs down the flank. Defenders, play it safe and contain.  I don’t want us to be playing a long ball game as our strategy, but if it is needed in the back, clear the ball out.  Midfielders, distribute the ball to our wingers and strikers, and play aggressively on 50/50 balls to win the ball back in the middle of the field.  The other team has this tall and fast center mid who they like to distribute the ball through.  Stay tight with him, and deny him the ball.  I already told you guys the starting lineup, so let’s come out here and work.  We didn’t fly all this way to get blown out every single game.  Okay, let’s go, hands in.”

“Barça on 3, 1 2 3 Barça!,” we all shout as we head onto the field.  I stand right in the center of our half of the field, positioning in the center mid spot.  The cleats, inching into the short-cut grass, were ready for the task in hand, ready to tackle the opposition.

***

December 13, 2019 (11:45 AM)

      As the referee blew the whistle, everything started to go in slow motion.  I raced up to mark a man in the middle while the opposing team played the ball back to their defense.  The right back played a long ball down the sideline to the winger, the ball traveling as close to the boundary as possible without going out.  The winger took the ball down the sideline, beat our outside defender, crossed it in, and their striker immediately found the ball and placed it into the back of the net. Within 2 minutes of the start time, we were already down 1-0.  This could be a long game, I dreadingly thought.  The opposing team’s audience erupted, drowning out Coach Ika’s remarks to the defense. Adversity was now mocking us, questioning whether we should even belong in this tournament.  15 minutes has passed without a goal, with our team controlling most of the possession of the ball despite being down.  Suddenly, a corner kick was given to us.  Our captain leisurely went up to take the kick, and lofted a beautiful ball into the center of the box.  The goalie punched it out, but right to one of our defenders sitting at the top of the box. He took a crack at the ball, and it deflected off one opposing player and went into the net. 1-1.  The other team kicked off again, passing the ball back to their defender, when that defender fumbled the ball and our striker immediately took advantage of it, stealing the ball and taking it downfield to eventually score in the side netting of the goal. 2-1.  Another 20 minutes later, we scored again, this time a shot outside of the box curling inside the far post.  By now the pressure has gone out the window, our team gliding down the field, connecting one by one to each other, or like my coach liked to say, “good soccer.”  The goals just kept piling onto one another, eventually racking up to 7-1 at the end of the game.  Hope for the season to continue was now visible.  Well, little did I know that I would end up playing fútbol instead of football.

As grandparents, my wife and I are equally proud of each of our 11 grandchildren in Ohio and Montana.  It has been a blessing to watch this young man grow and mature in his faith, education, and favorite sport.  Here are links to two previously published poems about his soccer adventures.

Pie Wins Out!

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A late autumn afternoon coaxes Fred and Milt, two of golfing’s diehards, to make one final trip to the golf course before storing their clubs for another season.  The forecast looks a bit ominous, but the hardy duo figure they can handle anything Mother Nature throws at them.

By the time they reach the first tee, a miserable windy, rainy cold front is quickly approaching.  Fred tells Milt, “Maybe the weather will clear.”

The twosome manages to finish the first hole with a pair of pars, and they both feel confident to play the second hole.  Meanwhile, the cold, wind, and rain have arrived. 

Moving along a bit more quickly, Fred and Milt finish the second hole with a pair of bogeys.  Obviously, their thoughts are more concerned with the weather than their golf score.

Hesitating just a bit, Milt asks Fred, “Should we continue to the next hole?”

With the wind beginning to roar, Fred shouts back, “Sure, let’s go for it.”

Milt hits a near-perfect tee shot, but he can barely see the ball in the driving rain.  Before Fred can tee up his ball, the rain is beginning to turn to snow. 

Undeterred, Fred slams into his tee shot with a towering, magnificent drive.  One problem! 

Tiny snowflakes are growing exponentially bigger as Fred’s ball takes off.  Quickly, the ball disappears into a cloud of white.  Milt calls out, “Looks like we can finish this hole next spring.  Let’s get out of here!”

Fred shoots back, “Sounds like a great plan.  Let’s head to my place and see if Marge has any coffee and pie left.”

Reaching the warm and dry kitchen, the haggard golfers are greeted by the aroma of Marge’s fresh baked Dutch apple pie, topped with her mother’s secret recipe of streusel.  As the golfing buddies sit down around the kitchen table with Marge and her sweet pie, Fred remarks, “We both took a ‘snowman’ on our third hole, but Margie’s pie wins out for sure!”

 

Monday Memories: Jesus Will Be With Us

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An early winter blizzard covers the immense ranching country.  The harshness of the storm threatens everyone’s safety, both people and cattle.

Phone lines are disconnected, with most on the ground.  Electricity is off except where well-prepared ranchers turn on generators to provide for their needs.  All roads into each ranch are drifted shut with the heavy, dense snow.

One rancher is overly concerned for the welfare of his family and his cattle herd.  The family is warm and safe inside their home, and they have enough groceries to last for several more days. 

However, the cattle stand in harm’s way.  Their water supply and feeding schedule have been disrupted, and the rancher worries about the length of the storm and the consequences for his 300 plus head of Black Angus cows.

At suppertime on the third night of the storm, the atmosphere is tense.  The rancher’s son sees the worry painted on his father’s face.  This faithful, little soul of a five-year old reminds his father with words filled with hope, “Jesus will be with us.”

Overnight the storm begins to abate and move on.  In the morning, crews begin to slowly and carefully clear the roads.  In a matter of hours, they will reach the isolated ranch. 

Using his powerful four-wheel tractor with its giant dozer blade, the rancher clears a path to where his precious cattle are nestled against the wall of a massive shelter.  While he makes sure the water is running, and the cattle receive their hay with a helping of rolled oats, he smiles and remembers the faithful words of his young son, “Jesus will be with us.”

Ain’t Broke Yet!

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Papa had always been sort of set in his ways.  Some might even say he’d become much too old-fashioned, but he took pride in being thrifty with a dollar.

My brother, Nick, walked up to Papa one afternoon and explained his dilemma, “My old, worn-out phone needs to be replaced.  All of the guys at school own a way better one than mine.”

Looking up from his magazine, Papa firmly replied, “Ain’t broke yet!”

A few days later, Mama called out to her husband in a voice filled with distress.  Her washing machine was on the fritz . . . again.  Papa made a couple of quick fixes, and then told Mama, “Ain’t broke yet!”

Mama always told me, “Papa has always been a penny pincher, just like his dear ol’ Papa.” 

A couple of weeks later, the zipper on my outdated winter coat was stuck.  Running to Papa, I tried to convince him to buy me a new coat, “Papa, this old coat is just worn out.  Don’t you think it’s time to buy me a new one?”

Papa took my coat.  After fiddling with the zipper for a couple of minutes, he brought it back to me with a proud smile on his face, “Ain’t broke yet!”

The next morning, Papa was sitting at the breakfast table, and he was looking over the advertisements in the newspaper.  A dashing, new pick-up truck caught his eye, and he imagined himself driving it down the street for everyone to see.  With his usual humble confidence, he announced to the rest of us, “I am thinking of trading in the ol’ truck for a brand new one.  She has quite a few miles on her.”

In unison, we all shouted, “Ain’t broke yet!”

Midnight’s Constellation

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Eastern Montana’s McCone County settles in for another anxious night.  Possible dry thunderstorms with lightning threaten to ignite the prairie’s parched grass.

Once again playing lookout for any possible lightning-caused wildfires, Randy sits perched on top of the highest hill on his ranch.    Watching from his pickup truck with a full 500-gallon water tank resting in the back, he’s on patrol until dawn on this stormy night. 

Around midnight, the storm seems to be moving to the south and east, and Randy’s eyes leave the prairie for a quick moment.  An opening in the dark clouds allows him to view the midnight’s constellation, which brings a welcome break in his concentration.  He still has several hours to go until the early morning light will signal the end of his nightly chore. 

Sitting alone, Randy’s thoughts speak to the Lord in the heaven’s cosmos.  Opening up to his Father in prayer, he offers praise and thanks for the quiet night.  He also prays for his neighbors and their continued faith and perseverance. 

Suddenly realizing the time, Randy brings his eyes back to the darkened landscape.  To the east, the beginning of a new day is peeking just over the horizon.  Rubbing his eyes, he looks forward to a short morning nap when he arrives back at the family home.

For the first time in many nights, he feels a different kind of peace covering the land.  The latest forecast for the coming night calls for a bit of rain with cooler temperatures and little wind.  Amen!

 

Past Favorites: Peril at the Falls (short story)

This short story was written in August, 2019.  The storyline is loosely based on the personal experience my brothers and I gained from a childhood trip to Yellowstone National Park back in the 1960s.

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Chapter 1

The three brothers are excited about the family’s vacation to a faraway national forest.  Being an adventurous trio, they always seem to be finding themselves in trouble, and this vacation trip may just punch their ticket once again.

The family makes a stop on their first day out.  There is a gorgeous canyon with an incredible waterfall.  All of this waits for the family, nestled and hidden in the tall pines of the dense forest.

While Mom and Dad are gazing at the spectacular scene and taking photographs with their new high-end digital camera, the brothers three take an excursion to discover more about the waterfall.  The sound of the cascading water can be heard for miles.

Gene is the youngest brother, and the biggest risk-taker.  Nothing ever seems to frighten him.  He leads the way through the thick pines as the boys find themselves closer and closer to the roar of the falls.

The oldest brother, Pete, follows close behind.  He tries to be alert because Gene usually marches straight into harm’s way.  Trailing behind, follows the middle brother, Craig.  Barely noticed by the boys, the terrain begins to slope more and more, downward towards the dangerous canyon.

The pace of the brothers walk quickens, and their excitement grows with each step.  Gene shouts over the noisy falls, “Let’s see how close we can get to the water.”

Little does he know how prophetic his words may soon become.

Craig’s steps even more tentatively through the challenging terrain and the pines.  He notices the steep drop through the trees to the rushing and roaring river below.Pete calls out, “Keep your eyes looking up.”

Oops . . . too late!

Chapter 2

And the story continues . . . more trouble awaits the threesome of adventure-seeking brothers.

The charging water from the falls nearly drowns out Pete’s warning.  The trio of boys has ventured far past the safety zone.

Craig stares straight down at the bottom of the deep canyon.  His eyes fill with frightened trauma.  The angry river below, with the deafening sound of the falls, is too much to bear.

He grows more and more terrified, and his eyes are locked on to the danger below.  With his eyes no longer watching his step, Craig feels his feet sliding on the steep ground, surrounded by prickly pine branches.  He doesn’t see a protruding tree branch.

Colliding with the stiff branch, Craig’s body spins around as he is knocked to the ground.  No longer on his feet, his body propels down the slippery slope like a missile.  Closing his eyes, his hands miraculously grab hold of a stout pine branch above his head.

Craig lets out a scream, “Help!  Help me!”

Pete and Gene can’t believe what has just transpired.  Somehow, they have managed to stay on their feet.  As Craig tumbles towards the canyon’s rim, he narrowly misses taking both of them with him.

Hearing Craig’s continued screams for help, the brothers need to come up with a rescue plan . . . immediately!  They are too far from Mom and Dad for any help to arrive from them.  They need to deal with the situation on their own.

Cautiously, the two boys slowly move down towards their brother.  One misstep and one of them (or both) could be taking a plunge.  The prospects of all three brothers making it out of this jam in one piece grow dimmer by the minute.

Gene steps gingerly, closer and closer, to reach his stricken brother.  He sees Craig’s grip growing weaker as the pine branch appears to be breaking loose.  Pete follows close behind, ready to help Gene rescue their brother.

The two boys stop just inches away from Craig’s hand, which has a death grip on the weakening branch.  Pete anchors himself to a larger pine branch with one hand.  His other hand reaches out to Gene.

The boys attempt to create a human chain to bring Craig back to a safer place.  Suddenly, Pete’s hand slips away from the pine branch, and he tumbles into Gene.  Both boys nearly join the river below, but Gene finds another branch to grab as well as more solid footing.

Pete’s hand replaces Gene’s hand on the branch as his other hand connects with Gene’s hand.  The boys know this might be their final attempt to save all of them from the pickle they are in.

Craig continues to shout for the boys to save him.  His impatience only makes the situation even more precarious.

Gene and Pete anchor their feet on the firmest ground they can find.  Their feet dig in for balance and stability.  With their human chain stronger than before, Gene reaches towards Craig’s hand.

The three brothers have reached a final destination, without any more chances.  Gene calls to Craig, “You need to be ready to release your hand from the branch as I grab your hand.”

Craig nods in silence.  He is much too petrified to say anything.

The rescue line is ready to make one final attempt.  The wild river waits below as well.  The next few seconds will decide everyone’s fate.

Gene reaches for Craig’s hand while Pete provides the anchor to hold all of them up.  In an instant, Craig feels his brother’s hand and grabs hold.  Together, Gene and Pete carefully pull Craig up the slope . . . one step, then two, finally three.

At last, the brothers are united again.  They slowly and cautiously crawl and walk back up from the treacherous canyon rim.

In a few minutes, they emerge from the pine trees.  Their arms and legs bear several scratches, abrasions, and bleeding from the spiny tree branches and the hard ground.  Their dirty faces are topped with matted down hair full of pine needles.  This disheveled threesome of thrill-seeking comrades is finally safe.

Mom and Dad turn around.  They have been oblivious to everything until now.  They both say in unison, “Were you boys playing again?”

 

 

Monday Memories: Experience Counts

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Traveling back to Montana, Phil and Phyllis arrive from back East.  They’ve brought their teenage grandson along to fish the Gallatin River.

Staying at the Rainbow Ranch, they plan to fly fish right along the river, which runs adjacent to the property.  The Ranch employs a fishing guide during the summer months.  Bert knows all of the best spots to fish on the Gallatin, and he is always bragging about his fishing prowess.  As he always reminds people, “experience counts.”

Complaining under his breath, Bert takes the trio of fishing pilgrims to the river.  He always frowns upon city folks who come out to the Gallatin to fish.  Mumbling under his breath, “All novices . . . they have no clue about fishing a river.”

Bert sets up Phil and his grandson, and they begin making tentative casts on to the river.  Each has fished very little, and their inexperience offers a bit of amusement for Bert.

Meanwhile, Phyllis moves down the river a few paces from Bert.  She shouts out to Bert, “I wonder who will catch the first fish?”

Bert replies, “A piece of ‘rainbow trout’ cake my dear!”

Bert begins to cast several times with little luck, not even a bite.  He glances down the river bank at Phyllis, and reminds himself he has plenty of time to catch the “first” fish. 

Phyllis spies a perfect hole in front of two rocks.  She casts her first line perfectly into her chosen spot.  Hmm, Bert didn’t even see her awesome cast because he is too busy with his own fishing.

Strike! 

Phyllis’ line goes taut.  She has a “granddaddy” rainbow trout hooked on her line.

Bert looks over at her with dismay.  Phyllis laughs and continues reeling in her prize catch.  Calling over to Bert, she shouts, “Experience counts, you know.”

As she lands a hefty, beautiful rainbow trout in the tall grass along the river bank, she tells Bert more of her story, “I fished these same waters years ago as a little girl.  My daddy taught me well.  I practically grew up on this river.”

Bert realizes he has been had.  If he does catch a trout today, it will likely taste more like crow.

Monday Memories: Reading a Classic

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Searching the local bookstore for one of the all-time classics to read, I find myself wandering the nearly infinite rows of bookcases, overflowing with books of every kind.  I am not looking for just any book, mind you.   My reading appetite hungers for something rich in prose, but the book needs to fit my personal definition of a classic.

As I walk around, my eyes notice many classics of American literature.  I flip through pages of book after book.  Hmm, “not this one” becomes my common response.  Frustration is beginning to set in, and the time is growing late.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

 The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

 Walden by Henry David Thoreau

 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

While these books would fill many lists of some of the most treasured novels to read, my appetite is still looking for something with the “crowning glory” of literature.  My vigilant book search continues.

Coming around a corner, the final section of the enormous store is laid out in front of me.  This overly small section of is buzzing with activity.  A large gathering of book lovers are digging all over its shelves.  What stories are these readers of classic literature finding here?

“Jonah and the Whale”

“Moses Leads Israel Home”

“Daniel in the Lion’s Den”

“David vs. Goliath”

“Abraham and Isaac”

“Noah Builds an Ark”

Feeling the excitement now as well, my eyes capture a beautiful volume with the above stories, but I also discover “The Greatest Story of All-Time” about a Galilean named Jesus Christ.

My spiritual journey has finished at last.  The Holy Bible will fill my spiritual hunger for an eternity.  Amen!

 

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Monday Memories: Afternoon Rendezvous

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The pace of work at Bill’s office has recently been too much to bear.  Laboring for countless hours to land a substantial account for his marketing business, he has been working diligently, nearly nonstop, with little time off.

Viewing a beautiful day outside of his office window, Bill checks his calendar.  All looks free for an afternoon rendezvous with one of his favorite places . . . a splendid, quiet 18 holes on the golf course.

As he quietly slips away from the office, Bill instructs his secretary to hold down the fort . . . “Please keep the boss off of my back for three hours.”

About two hours later, Bill’s boss shows up.  He needs to catch up with Bill about this new account.  Let’s eavesdrop on the conversation between the boss and Bill’s ever-protective secretary.

The boss asks the secretary, “Where’s Bill at?  I need to check on his progress with our newest account.”

She dutifully replies, “He’s working on his game.”

“What game?”

“He’s working hard to land this new account that’s better than par.”

“Well, I hope he keeps his eyes focused on the prize, just like an eagle.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s looking for lots of birdies, perhaps an eagle or two”

As the boss leaves the office, he turns around and smiles, “Bill really is my ‘ace in the hole’ around here.”

Meanwhile at this same moment on the golf course, Bill tees off on the short, par-3, 13th hole.  His ball carries straight and true, lands softly on the green, and meanders right into the hole. 

A hole-in-one . . . an ACE!

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Monday Memories: Can a Typewriter Fly?

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A trio of boys is always up to mischief at school.

Mrs. Hall is the very strict, no nonsense, typing teacher up on the second floor.  She runs her classroom like a well-run military operation.  She adores reading about General George S. Patton.

The typing classroom consists of the latest manual typewriter models.  (Sorry lad, no electric ones yet.)

The delinquent boys intend to surprise and shock Mrs. Hall this morning.  After all, there is nothing wrong with conducting a small science experiment from her classroom.

Have you ever seen a typewriter fly? 

The boys sneak an old typewriter into Mrs. Hall’s classroom before the school day begins. 

With a lookout posted near the classroom door, the other two boys open a window and place the typewriter on the ledge.

Just as Mrs. Hall walks into the room, her ever-alert eyes see the boys at the open window with the typewriter. 

“Hey Mrs. Hall!  Have you ever seen a typewriter fly?”

The typewriter is launched from the window ledge, precisely on schedule.

Thinking the boys are dropping one of her prized Olivetti typewriters from the window, brings a shocking look of surprise to Mrs. Hall’s face . . . Priceless!