Tag Archives: Cubs

The Improbable Actually Happens

[The Assyrians] shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.
2 Chronicles 32:18 (NRSVCE)

It’s such an improbable moment. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and your team trailing by three runs. The grand slam to win the game. It actually happened on Sunday night when a Chicago Cub rookie named David Bote actually pulled off the improbable home run that every kid dreams about on the sandlot.

Sometimes the improbable happens. Jesus, who pulled off all sorts of improbable feats, reminded His followers that with God nothing is impossible, no matter how improbable.

Today’s chapter records one of the most improbable events in history. The Chronicler provides a condensed description of the events, which were more thoroughly told by the scribes who wrote the book of 2 Kings and by the prophet Isaiah.

The Assyrians of the ancient world were really bad dudes. They had taken warfare to a whole new level and made themselves fabulously powerful and wealthy by raiding, plundering, and decimating other nations. They were the first to use siege engines and had a corp of engineers who found all sorts of ingenious ways of breaching the walls of the cities they attacked.

The weapon the Assyrians used most effectively, however, was fear. They were heinously brutal in their treatment of conquered. They impaled people on spikes, skinned people alive, dismembered people, and burned others alive. The Assyrians discovered that the more brutal they were, the more fear they spread into the next cities on their campaign and the more fearful people were, the easier it was to defeat them.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler records another tactic the Assyrians used. They had a master manipulator who would stand outside the city walls and talk smack to the people inside in their own language, psychologically wearing them down with fear and intimidation. The Assyrian envoy loudly mocks King Hezekiah, mocks the Judeans, and mocks God.

Hezekiah stands firm. He reminds his people, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.”

The defeat of the Assyrians is an improbability bordering on impossibility. Jerusalem didn’t have the defenses to withstand a siege. The Assyrians were on a roll. They were better equipped, more experienced at war, and had everything in their favor. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and King Hezekiah is down to his last strike.

And then the improbable happened. The entire Assyrian army encamped around Jerusalem dies overnight. Historians to this day argue about what happened to the Assyrian army, but the improbable actually happened. Jerusalem was spared by the most improbable of events.

This morning I’m thinking about discouragement and fear. It’s so easy to get down and discouraged. I find myself bombarded in news media and social media with messages telling me to be afraid of everything. Everything is so bleak. There is so much to worry about. Things are so terrible, so awful,  and so hopeless. Ugh.

Today I’m encouraged by a grand slam and a historical event.

The improbable happens.

On a Brighter Note…

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.
Jeremiah 52:31-32 (NIV)

Have you ever had one of those stretches of life’s journey in which seemingly everything that can go wrong does go wrong? Yeah, it’s been one of those.

I won’t bore you with all the details but the past two weeks have included a trip to the emergency room, stitches, illnesses, hospitalization of loved ones, multiple broken implements, breakdowns, and a cracked engine block. Ugh. Bob Dylan’s bluesy psalm Everything is Broken has been flitting through my head as I try to keep my bent towards pessimism in check:

Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you’re chokin’
Everything is broken

Anyone who has followed my posts for any length of time knows that I’m a baseball fan. And, every baseball fan knows that winning streaks and losing streaks are all part of “the long season.” When a team or player is in a funk, you’re waiting for that one clutch hit or amazing play that signals a turnaround. So it was last night that Wendy and I watched our beloved Cubs win on a two-outs-bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off grand slam by Jason Heyward.

<Watch the Grand Slam!>

I thought to myself, “Maybe this is a sign that this funk we’ve been in is over.” Hey, cut me a break. Baseball fans are superstitious. Rally caps work! (Sometimes.)

Today’s chapter is the last chapter in a long journey through the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s messages. The unknown editor who put the anthology together concludes the book with a historical epilogue. Interesting enough, it’s almost a verbatim copy of a section from 2 Kings 24-25. It gives a Cliff Notes summary of the Babylonian exile and ends with a bright spot: King Nebuchadnezzar’s successor releases Judah’s King Jehoiachin from prison, raises him to a place of honor, and he remains there for the rest of his life.

In other words, a book full of pessimistic, apocalyptic doom and gloom ends with a base hit in the bottom of the ninth. “This game’s not over, folks,” the editor is telling us. Put on your rally caps!

This morning I’m mulling over life’s ups-and-downs. We all have them. They come and they go. Some weeks it feels like everything is flowing and you’re on a roll. Some weeks, well, everything breaks. C’est la vie. It is what it is. The further I get in my journey the more wisdom I have to know the winning streaks will eventually end, as will the losing streaks.

I just have to keep looking for that bright spot, that base knock, that reminds me this game’s not over.

Featured photo courtesy of the_matt via Flickr

“Harsh Realities”

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34

Follow me for any length of time and you’ll discover that I enjoy the game of baseball. One of the many reasons I enjoy baseball is the way the game metaphorically reflects life in so many ways.

In the narration of his great documentary about the game, Ken Burns speaks about the game beginning each season with the hope of spring, and ending each year with the “harsh realities of autumn.” How often life is like that. The optimistic young soldier ships out with his head filled of dreams of glory and returns with his spirit tempered by the realities of battle. A couple begins their marriage in the fog of romance, but soon find themselves living day-by-day facing the sacrificial requirements of love. Just months ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth with greeting cards chalk full of words about hope for humanity, joy to the world, and peace on earth. In a few weeks we will remember Jesus’ kangaroo court trial, torture, and gruesome execution. Death must come before resurrection can even be a possibility. That’s a harsh reality.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is preparing his followers for what life is going to be like on their mission of taking His message to the world. It’s not a pep talk. It’s a sobering reality check. Jesus didn’t fill His messengers with visions of fame, fortune, and prosperity. He called them to austerity, humility, and sincerity. He did not send them out with hopeful promises that the Message they would carry would create inspirational social movements of unity, peace and brotherhood. He told them to be wary and shrewd, expecting opposition, persecution, and conflict. The sweet manger baby we all celebrated as the “Prince of Peace” has grown to deliver a more difficult message: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Along my journey I’ve come to accept that we as humans like to dwell on the things that are easy, optimistic, inspirational, and accessible. There’s nothing wrong with looking at the glass half-full and being grateful for it. We need hope and optimism to carry us in dark times. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that there is wisdom in being sober minded. We are quick to remember Jesus feeding a hungry crowd of people by miraculously multiplying a few loaves and fish. Few of us recall that just a day later Jesus drove that very crowd away when He asked them to “eat my flesh, and drink my blood.” The crowds wanted the former without the latter. We still do.

Baseball season starts in a week and a half. Right now fans like Wendy and me are experiencing the annual feelings of giddy excitement. Come the evening of April 2nd it will be hot dogs and cold beer at the Vander Well Pub. Every team’s record starts at 0-0, and everyone is hopeful. This year Wendy and I even get to feel the joy of our team starting the season as World Series Champions, and that’s a lot of fun. It does not wipe away, however, the knowledge that we’ve never felt it before.

Harsh realities of autumn 108. World Series Champions 1.

Play ball!

“You Seem Incredibly Zen”

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4 (NIV)

In the late evening of November 2nd, when the Cleveland Indians had inexplicably rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 8th to tie game seven of the World Series, there was a high degree of angst in the family room here at Vander Well Manor. It seemed like it was all going to fall apart like it had done so many times before. Then came the rain delay that has already gained legendary status. Wendy and I had a chance to catch our collective breath along with the rest of the nation.

You seem incredibly zen about this,” Wendy said to me, observing the lack of emotional angst in my affect. I have written ad nauseam about our devotion to the Chicago Cubs over the years, so no need to expound on how momentous of a moment this was, nor how nervous I should have been.

The truth is, I was feeling an inexplicable sense of peace in that moment that I’m not sure I would have been feeling a year ago. I certainly would not have been feeling a sense of peace in this moment  five, ten, or 20 years ago. That night, I was.

When I was a young man, I memorized the words the ancient prophet Isaiah penned, pasted at the top of this post. At this waypoint in my life’s journey I’ve come to realize that peace is a relatively rare human experience on life’s road. This is especially true in the extra innings of World Series game 7, an unforeseen tragedy, an unexpected election result, or a painfully blank ultrasound reading.

On the night that Jesus was arrested, submitted to kangaroo court, beaten, scourged, nailed to a cross and mocked by the on looking crowd He looked at his followers and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

The testimony and stories of Jesus followers in the following hours and days were not stories of peace. They scattered and fled to avoid arrest and gathered clandestinely behind locked doors. The betrayer committed suicide. Their leader, Peter, followed Jesus at a distance, but three times fearfully denied any knowledge of the Man he’d earlier hailed as Christ. While the female followers of Jesus risked going to the tomb to anoint the body after the sabbath, the men remained fearfully hidden. Not exactly a picture of peace.

Tradition and history tell us, however, that something happened in the days and years that followed the tragic events of that fateful night. Something had been transformed in these same fearful, peace-less followers. They encountered a resurrected Christ. Forty days later they fearlessly proclaimed the risen Jesus to public crowds. They peacefully accepted arrest, imprisonment and trial. They scattered once more, not in fear but with a mission to share the Message with the known world. With the exception of John, who died of old age, the rest peacefully accepted the brutal death of martyrs.

This morning I am reminded that the peace that Jesus promised His followers did not come instantly. It budded, it took root, and it grew to fruition. God’s creation is a growing, expanding, organic cosmos. Miracles happen, but most of the time things take time to grow before you experience the fruit.

So it was on the evening of November 2nd Wendy noticed my zen-like peace during the rain delay. I think I’m finally hitting a stage of the journey in which I’m enjoying the fruit of peace after many years of steadfast seeking. Peace in the knowledge of a Divine Dance that is so much bigger, deeper, and greater than I’ve ever fathomed. Peace that comes with faith in the Great Story being told by the Author of Life. Peace with my place and role in that Story. Peace in the knowledge that our journeys are all full of bitter defeats and disappointments, but also include rare moments of satisfying victory. I’m increasingly at peace with the knowledge that I will certainly endure the former as I always have before, and might even gain a little wisdom in the experience. I will also enjoy the latter when it comes, even more fully in proportion to the measure of defeat that preceded it.

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Featured photo: kudumomo via Flickr

Someday … is TODAY!

Anyone who knows me even moderately well knows that I am among the millions of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans. My precious young daughters endured long, chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play. They did, however, get to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame for a local news story about the ubiquitous “Businessman’s Special” (forgive the extremely poor VHS archive footage):

Taylor even dutifully went along with me on my first visit to Wrigley Field.

Tom and Taylor at Wrigley - 1

When Wendy and I married she allowed me the joy of teaching her about baseball, about the Cubs, and she has walked this journey with me for over a decade. She’s endured the chill winds blowing in at Wrigley with me. We try to watch or listen to every game, often recording it and watching it late if we have to, and planning our travel to the lake to coincide with Pat and Ron calling the game on the radio. My wonderful wife has become such a baseball fan that while I was on a business trip a few years ago she was watching all of the major league roster moves on the MLB network at the trade deadline and texting me up-to-the-minute news. Man, I love that woman.

tom&wendy@wrigley050108

Our family and friends have had to live with (endure, really) the reality that the Cubs are always on at our house. It’s just the way of life at both Vander Well Manor and our Playhouse at the lake. I’m happy to say, however, that more than a few have embraced our crazy. It’s been a blast to share the fun together.

Every year hope has sprung eternal. Opening day is a bit of an annual rite of passage at our house. Wendy has hot dogs, nachos, and cold beer ready. We put it on the calendar and make watching a priority.

opening-day-at-vw-manor

I crank Eddie Vedder’s Someday We’ll Go All the Way and dream quietly that it just might be a day this year, this season.

Every autumn hope has ended with acute, even horrific, post season tragedy or the painfully slow, obtuse seasons in which there were far more losses than wins.

There’s been more sorrow than joy over the years, but it hasn’t really  mattered. We still watch, listen, follow, cheer, scream, and cry. Then we grieve the long months of winter until the sounds of a Cubs game can once again resonate through Vander Well Manor each day.

Ask any Cubs fan and they’ll tell you that this season was special. There was something different about this crew of bear Cubs. There is the zen, hippie manager who organized pajama parties on road trips and petting zoos at practice. There are the expensive free agents that the front office were willing to sign. There are the talented free agents who passed up more money and longer contracts because they wanted to play for this team. The National League infield in the All-Star game were all Chicago Cubs. And, there were wins. A lot of wins. The “W” flag risked getting tattered from consistent exposure to the elements. We’d experienced some great seasons, but we’d never experienced a season like this season.

There’s this thing I’ve learned about hope when all you’ve experienced is disappointment. You want so desperately to give yourself wholly to dance with hope, but you’re always waiting for disappointment to show up, tap hope on the shoulder, and cut in. We’ve been conditioned to expect that our hopes will be dashed. The rug will be pulled out from under us. 

Our team swooned in June before the all-star break and we thought, “Oh no, here we go again.”

Our team won more games than any other team, and we were told “the team who wins the most games rarely wins the World Series.”

Our team lost to the Giants in 13 innings, and we thought “The momentum’s gone. Here we go again.”

Our team couldn’t eek out a single run against Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS, then we get shut out again in Game 3. We thought “Surely, this is the beginning of the end.”

Our team gets shut out in Game 1 of the World Series, then loses two of three at Wrigley. We have to win three straight, and win the last two in Cleveland. We’re reminded incessantly by Joe Buck and the rest of the baseball talking heads how long the odds are, how improbable it would be, and how many times the Cubs have blown it before. And, we think, “The dance with hope is over. I see disappointment making its way across the gym floor to cut in. Again.”

Then we win Game 5 at Wrigley and salvage one victory at home. At least we won’t have to endure watching Cleveland celebrate a World Series victory in the Friendly Confines.

Then we win Game 6 in Cleveland and relish the thought of having pushed the series to the limit. Still we have the talking heads reminding us of the improbability, the long odds, the history of our dashed hopes.

Then comes Game 7. Lead off homer by Fowler. Strong effort by Hendricks. 5-1 lead. The Indians get a couple of runs but we’ve got a lead and it’s getting late in the game. Hope is dancing. Hope is literally cutting the rug, and we are feelin’ fine. Put on the dancing shoes.

Nine outs away.
Six outs away.
Four outs away.

Two down. Bottom of the 8th. Bases empty. Just one more out and we’re on to the 9th. 

Indians double. 

Indians Home Run. 

Tied 5-5. 

There is disappointment tapping hope on the shoulder. “Excuse me. I’d like to cut in.”

Rain delay. Seriously?!

Texting with Madison in SC.

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Texting with Kevin M.

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Texting with Chadwicke.

2016-world-series-game-7-8
Texting with Kevin R.

2016-world-series-game-7-7
Texting with Matthew.
Texting with Harry.

Then comes the top of the 10th.
Cubs score one.

Cubs score two.

The Cubs are doing it. They are defying the odds and the naysayers and the talking heads and the curses and the nagging disappointments.

Carl Edwards Jr., the kid we watched pitch at Principal Park for the Iowa Cubs just a month or so ago, is in to close it.

Indians score one. Disappointment is still trying desperately to steal the dance.

Texting with Taylor

2016-world-series-game-7-10

I have always dreamed of this day. I had always envisioned being in Chicago. I imagined driving to Elgin and taking the train into the city and the Red Line to Wrigley. But, there was something so right about being here at Vander Well Manor. It was just Wendy and me listening to Pat and Ron call the game while we watched the muted television feed. This is where we celebrate Opening Day with hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and beer. This is where we listen and watch and cheer and groan and cry nearly every day from April through September. Now it’s November. It’s the last day of the baseball season. Game 7 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs were the last team standing. We won the big one.

Hope shrugged off disappointment this time. It’s time to dance, really dance, for the first time in 108 years. Wendy and I hugged, and cried, and went outside to #FlytheW.

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Someday was TODAY. I can’t describe how much fun it was to exchange calls and texts and messages and posts and tweets with friends and family. And, most of all, with the little girls, now grown, who endured  chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play and learning to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 

It’s root, root, root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s a shame…

No shame tonight. We won. It’s time to dance.

madison-watching-cubs-in-sc

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Miraculous and Monotonous

This is what the Lord says to me:
    “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place.
like shimmering heat in the sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
Isaiah 18:4 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers recently went through a book called Walls Fall Down by Dudley Rutherford. The subtitle of the book is “7 Steps from the Battle of Jericho to Overcome Any Challenge.” For those not well versed in their ancient Hebrew history, the battle of Jericho was an unusual event in which the Hebrews marched around the walled city of Jericho, blew their trumpets, gave a shout, and “the walls came a tumblin’ down.”

I had the opportunity to share a couple of the messages from the series. One of the reminders that I gave listeners is that the miraculous events of Jericho happened once. It is an amazing story and there are many worthwhile lessons one can gather from it. Nevertheless, the truth is that it happened just once. Israel didn’t take their Tower of Power horn section on a tour of every city in the land. The other cities of the land would have to be defeated the old-fashioned way.

Along my journey I have witnessed and experienced some amazing things. There have been climactic moments in which God intervened in everyday life in very cool ways. There have been even more moments in which I desperately would have loved for God to intervene, to supernaturally remove the obstacles before me, yet God remained just as the prophet Isaiah described in today’s chapter: quiet, and looking on. I was required to do the heavy lifting, to exercise faith, to learn the hard lessons, to suffer through the hardship.

Some blame God for not making things easier. Some try to package the miraculous into repeatable human formulas and promise that God will topple every wall. Some walk away in anger and resentment at the fact that God toppled walls for some one else, but not for them.

This is part of the journey, and it’s part of the lesson we are required to learn from it as we progress spiritually. Sometimes God acts in amazing ways and climactic events. Often, we are left to the daily slog of faith and the grind of pressing on one step at a time. They are equal parts of the journey and they each have their eternal purposes.

Excuse me while I lace up the hiking boots. It seems I have a long, uninspiring trek ahead of me today. You never know, though. Miraculous things might happen at any moment. Anything can happen.

The Cubs might even win the World Series! 🙂

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Featured image: six steps via Flickr

The Latest 10-15-2016

Life continues to feel like a whirlwind, whipping Wendy and me from one thing to the next. This past couple of weeks and weekends was no exception.  I spent the entire  work week, last week, on the road to Texas, working with a client there in Laredo and San Antonio. Wendy stayed busy with rehearsals for The Christmas Post here at home.

 

I arrived home on Friday evening in time for the Cubs first playoff game against San Francisco. Wendy had beer, hot dogs, and nachos ready and the living room here at Vander Well Manor was transformed into our own little ball park for the game. Glad to say our Cubbies won in dramatic fashion. Classic pitcher’s duel into the bottom of the 8th when Javy Baez hit a solo-shot to left for the game’s only run. I spent the late innings texting updates, like a modern form of the telegraph, to our friend Kevin who was monitoring the game in Palm Springs. So much fun to get to text the good news.

Saturday was Union Street Players annual Award’s Night. This year our friend Spence Ver Meer was inducted to the USP Walk of Fame. Spence starred with Wendy in the 2005 production of Barefoot in the Park and it was an honor to be part of the festivities. While Wendy spent Saturday morning at rehearsal, I spent the time preparing slides, video, and music for the festivities. It was a full day of preparation as Wendy had made cheesecake’s for our dessert. The event went really well. The local improv group who performed (made up mostly of USP members) even got Wendy to volunteer to help out on the final game. That’s not an easy feat but it was hilarious to watch (see featured image).

Wendy continues to do a masterful job directing The Christmas Post for Union Street Players. Performances are scheduled Dec 2-4, 6, 8, 9 here in Pella. You don’t want to miss this! I’ll be on stage reprising my role as Mr. Herzog.

I preached again last Sunday morning in the auditorium at Third. We kicked off a series on the love chapter. Wendy and I got a little rest watching the Vikings beat the Texans in the afternoon before our preparations for the coming week kicked into high gear. The whirlwind continues.

Madison got some Cubbie swag to help maintain her Midwest roots in SC!
Madison got some Cubbie swag to help maintain her Midwest roots in SC!

Madison is safe and sound in South Carolina. Hurricane Matthew gave Madison her first taste of a tropical storm, but Columbia was mostly hit with heavy rain and 25-30 mph winds. She hunkered down in her apartment and killed flying cockroaches. I sent Madison some Cubbie swag so she can “keep the faith” down south for a Cub’s World Series.

Taylor has received some encouraging signs regarding potential employment across the pond. And, some interest in employment here in Fun City. Where will she end up? More on that as things prayerfully progress.