Have you ever noticed that when we have a spiritual growth spurt, we will usually have just finished a time of trial or tribulation? The truth of the matter is: PROSPERITY WILL NEVER LEAD US INTO SPIRITUAL GROWTH! True spiritual growth only comes when the Potter is carving, pushing, pinching, pulling, twisting and cutting on us. I want to tell you about one of those times in my life. It came as I was debating with God about obeying His call to the ministry.
It was the Spring of 1970 and I was 20 yrs. old. I had agreed to help Ronnie Boudoin, an experienced Little League coach, with his team, Forest Motel, in Franklin, La. I made it very clear that I was only there to “help”. At the end of the first day of practice, Ronnie handed me the equipment bag and said, “I’ve been called away to a special job and will be gone for 6 weeks. Good luck.” I would have given a body part just to back up the calendar so that I could “unvolunteer”.
I talked to my mom and dad that evening at supper. I told them how strongly I wanted to quit and how unqualified I felt. Then my dad did what he usually did, he asked me a question. “So what will happen to the boys if you quit?” To be honest I hadn’t even thought about the boys. Suddenly it hit me that there might not be a replacement coach and that the boys might not get to play. That thought pierced my heart; I couldn’t let that happen. So the boys and I began our journey the very next evening at practice.
We were supposed to finish near the cellar; baseball terminology for finishing last. So we didn’t have any lofty expectations to overcome. My dad came to practice every day and then offered his “critics” at supper. I can remember him telling me several things that I was doing wrong, when they were exactly what he used to do when he coached me. When I confronted him with that fact he just said, “Well, I’ve gotten smarter since them.”
Late in the season we found ourselves tied for 1st place. Then thanks to the 2nd place team who beat the team we were tied with, FOREST MOTEL WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP! The boys and I were elated. Now it was time for the All-Star team. The coach of the winning team was the head coach of the All-Star team. I was pretty happy with that prospect.
The night before the Little League officials and coaches met to select the all-stars and set the practices, I got a phone call. It was from Ronnie. He said, “Well, Mike, I wanted to congratulate you and the boys on winning the championship. Now that I’m back in town and have the other coaches to help me with the all-star team, I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be needing you at the practices. Thanks for what you did, but I’ll take it from here.”
I felt like someone had taken a large butcher knife and stabbed me in the heart. Part of me was heartbroken and wanted to scream and cry. But a very different part of me wanted to go over to Ronnie’s house and beat him to a pulp.
Several of the boys called me when they were picked for all-stars and I wasn’t there to coach them. They were angry and wanted to quit. So I had to tell them that I was OK and that they needed to play. I was asked not to attend any of the practices since it would just confuse the boys; so I didn’t. The 20 yr. old me felt like I had been mugged and robbed by those 30-50 yr old men who were just ticked off that our team won and that the novice coach had beaten them. But I couldn’t say that to any of my boys or their parents because it would affect their performance. I couldn’t talk to mom or dad because dad might have gone and beaten some of the men up. I felt like there was no one to talk to.
Those are the incredible times saturated with all kinds of spiritual growth potential. When we begin to feel that we are by ourselves and have no one to turn to, that is when God whistles from heaven like my dad use to do when it was time to come home for supper. Those are the times when Father God has the supper table set and is ready to lead us into deeper spiritual waters than we have known before.
I stayed away from all of the practices, but arrived early for the first game. One of my boys, Alan, was the starting pitcher. Each of the Forest Motel boys came over to where I was sitting and we laughed and joked a little. Those few moments were a healing gel in my heart.
Alan was the tallest kid in the league, red headed and had an explosive fast ball. However, he was like Nolan Ryan was throughout his career; control and location were a struggle and it was all “nerves” related. Before 2 innings had passed our all-stars were down 8 runs and bases were loaded. Ronnie had been struggling with pulling Alan. About that time Ronnie hollered, “Mike, can you go out and talk to Alan?” You know there was part of me that was so angry I wanted to tell Ronnie to, well, to tell him no. But Alan was embarrassed and struggling and he was one of my boys. “Sure coach, I’d love to.”
I still remember taking that walk out to the mound. We weren’t an official Little League, so we could walk out on the field. As I approached Alan teared-up. “So what did you have for breakfast this morning, Alan?” He had forgotten how we did things during the season. Most boys when they are scared or overly nervous, just need to get their mind on something else for a few minutes. “What did you say, coach?” “I asked you what you had for breakfast this morning?” “Coach, don’t you see where we are and what a mess I’ve gotten us into?”
I then leaned over and got my nose about 3 inches from his and said firmly, “I asked you what you had for breakfast and I want an answer right now.” “Uh, cereal and toast and milk, I think.” “What kind of cereal?” “Huh?” More loudly I said, “I said what kind of cereal?” “Cheerios, I think.” “Well, that sounds like a good enough breakfast to me for you to rear back and mow these twits down with your best fireball. Now do it! Do you hear me?” Alan smiled ear to ear. “Yes, sir, I sure do.” And he did. They didn’t score another run off of Alan; and everyone of them got to see why he had been the best pitcher in our whole league.
I walked back to the gate to return to my seat in the stands and Ronnie said, “Why don’t you stay here in the dugout with me.” That made my day. I wish I could tell you that we won, but we didn’t. The boys made up 7 of those 8 runs, but lost 8-7.
Throughout that whole summer I had been arguing with God about being called to the ministry. In fact, I had finally told Him, “NO.” But working with those boys showed me that “people” were what I wanted to do with my life. Enduring the back stabbing (which ministry can be full of) was a small price for those glorious minutes out on that mound with Alan. And his smile to me was worth $1,000,000.
The molding of God in my life has always been painful. That is the way molding works. But if we truly are clay and if we truly want to be anything/everything that God desires for us to be, then we need to praise the Lord when those painful times come.
“Lord, thank You again for that summer and for the back stabbings. You used the pain to help me grow. And BTW, I want to thank you again for that smile from Alan and for those few moments on the mound. That really was the icing on the cake You baked for me.” Mike