Curveballs and Second ChancesJuly 27, 2023
It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to sit down and write, my dear friends. Not because I didn’t care or didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t able to. My family has had some very immense life changes, especially during the last three months, that have thrown us seriously off our game. We’ve dealt with very serious health, employment, and a host of other issues including the unexpected death of a family member who was very, very precious to me. I don’t lift the veil on these personal issues without a very good reason, and it’s not for sympathy. As I’ve sat here at my desk writing recently, I’ve processed through a lot of emotions and memories including memories from my own childhood as I deal with these losses and challenges.
Life Lessons and Unexpected Curveballs
Strangely, I remembered something I learned from baseball. I say strange, because my grandfather was a baseball fan, though I never have been one. I think it’s one of those lessons you don’t know you’re learning at the time until it comes back to you unexpectedly much later. This one comes with the smell of fresh wood chips and coffee while my grandfather carved and listened to the Detroit Tigers games on the radio in his shop. Whenever they lost, he’d threaten not to listen anymore like a lot of other fans were doing. Yet game after game, he’d still huddle over his radio and tell me the principles of what the Tiger’s new coach and players needed to do to win a championship in future years.
As a boy, I used to think he was crazy talking about a future championship when they couldn’t even win the game they were in. In the years since, I’ve realized life seemingly comes with curveballs we just can’t seem to hit well when we’re in the midst of the game. These curveballs discourage us from how the game is going. I’m just talking about day-to-day challenges like homeschooling, sick kids, marriage, chores, bills, mad bosses, crazy family, annoying neighbors, etc. Maybe you keep hearing that annoying umpire in your head calling out, “Strike One!”, “Strike Two!”, “Steeeriiike . . .” I’m not even talking about the days when it feels like the pitcher’s aiming fastballs at your head. I’m sure many of you can relate.
Good Principles for Bad Days
My U.S. Marine Corps rifle range instructor taught me something thirty years ago that I’ve held onto since that day about holding onto good principles even on bad days. I’d been laying there in the burning Mojave desert sand all day getting cussed out by Drill Instructors while I kept missing the target and the range clock was running out. Other recruits around me had already made passing scores and were cleaning up. Trust me that I was terrified, discouraged, and ready to quit.
Suddenly, a new shadow crossed my shoulders and a new camo-clad banty rooster decided to change my world. Minus the litany of un-relatable Marine Corps adjectives and a boot tap in the ribs to adjust my position, he told me words something pretty close to the following: “Don’t quit. I’ve been there too. Now trust me. Forget the clock and stop worrying about your next shot because of your last mistake. Let’s make adjustments and see where we’re hitting.”
I was so scared, I did exactly as he told me. I pretended to throw my last shot away, adjusted my sights, aimed, and fired. My instructor assured me I’d hit paper. I knew I still wasn’t good enough though and was sure I’d always be a failure.
“Don’t worry about the clock. We’re making progress. Let’s adjust and take the shot again,” the D.I. insisted confidently as he knelt beside me and checked the target with binoculars. He kept saying this and telling me how to make adjustments every time I’d fire at the target even though I couldn’t see any difference. It was impossible for me to see the bullet holes climbing up and across the distant paper. He finally handed me my very last magazine of 30 bullets and said, “Alright recruit, you’re on target. You have 37 seconds left on the clock before the Range closes down and you need all your bullets in the target. Start shooting.” Talk about stress.
The desert sand was still blistering hot, and sweat still dripped off my sunburnt forehead. The drill instructors still walked the firing line promising to make us regret ever being born. The black dot on that target 300 yards away still looked smaller than my rifle’s front sights. The vast majority of my time that day had been a complete and total failure, but now I had the correct principles I needed, and an expert’s assurance I was “on target” and still had a chance.
I started firing; pausing only long enough for my front sights to cover the distant dot between each shot before pulling the trigger again. I emptied the magazine just as the horn blared and to everyone’s astonishment, I’d hit the bullseye all but one time. Needless to say, I passed the Rifle Range requirement and eventually received the great privilege of being a U.S. Marine. You see, while I was laying there in the very shadow of defeat, I learned to follow good principles even when I couldn’t see the immediate outcome. I learned to ignore the jeers, threats, and mistakes that weren’t helping me; and focus on the target.
Staying the Course
You know, that memory reminds me to finish my grandfather’s baseball story. You see, he stuck with the Tigers year after year as their coach endured lost games, people’s negative opinions, and even the loss of fans in order to rebuild through sacrifice, hard work, and teamwork. Then in 1984, the Detroit Tigers started winning far more games than they lost and slowly knocked team after team out of the running until they finally faced the San Diego Padres in the World Series.
I still remember my grandfather grumbling about fair weather fans during that whole season as people started cheering the Tigers on again. The day after the Tigers won the Championship, I and a lot of other “fans” strutted around in our brand new championship Tigers’ jerseys so we could show all those doubters that we’d stuck with the winning side. Somehow I never fooled my grandfather though, and it might be why I’ve never really been a big baseball fan since.
I sure wish I’d listened better when my grandfather used to explain how to stay the course even when it felt like you were losing. Instead, it took a Marine Corps Drill Instructor to teach me.
Oh yeah. Those failing rifle range targets went in the trash long before I ever graduated boot camp. My oldest son, though, received my old Marine Corps Dress Blue uniform with the two crossed silver rifles badge denoting a USMC Rifle Expert. When I see that old uniform, I remember the desperation, guilt, and fear I overcame by following good principles even if I couldn’t see the outcome. All my son sees is a symbol of victory long after I faced the shadow of defeat. I hope he considers that as he faces his own shadows and challenges. I hope you do too, dear reader, and I wonder . . . could this have anything to do with homeschooling or life itself, at all – when the days are hard and it seems like you can’t keep going? Days when you only see your failures and not your future?
There must be a principle buried in this somewhere you can use. Maybe it’s, “Don’t quit. Stop worrying about your next shot because of your last mistake. Make the necessary adjustments, then try again and again and again until you hit the bullseye. You’ve got this.”
(Dedicated to L.T.)
More About the Author:
Gabriel is a former homeschooled missionary kid and homeschooling father who adores his wife, children, and grandchildren. He is currently rebuilding a 130-year-old homestead, writing a historical fiction book on character for young people, and mentoring young men. He is a former U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent, Army National Guard Photographer, and U.S. Army Deputy Public Affairs representative and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. He lived in Central America during Junior High and served on military short and long-term assignments across the U.S. and in half a dozen countries, including Iraq during his military career. Besides his deep faith and his family, his passion is writing and developing young men into capable steward leaders.
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