Yesterday was a tough day for my son Cameron. It was a night game and the lights beamed down on our team of 3rd and 4th graders (the "Mets"). Cameron stood on the pitcher's mound and took a few warm-up pitches to the coach. At 10, this is his first year in little league ball, and he was selected to be one of two pitchers early in the season. This is the first year they play team-pitch ball (meaning the kids pitch to each other instead of the coaches pitching) and Cameron has done a good job in the six or so games they've played in learning how to focus and get the ball to the catcher's mitt in such a way that he hears the great sound of the ump's call, "Strike!"
But some games you win, and some games you lose. And yesterday had the earmark of the unexpected. As the coach returned a ball, it went high and struck Cameron right in the mouth. The crowd went "Ooh!" and I fought my mom tendency to jump up from the bleachers and hurry out to the field to see whether he was all right. The coach hadn't seen the ball hit him, and Cameron stood out there on the mound, pushing his tongue against the inside of his mouth, resolving not to cry. He blinked hard a few times and kept his face as blank as granite. I zeroed in on his eyes, watching for signs that I needed to do something. He looked back and I mouthed the words, "Are you okay?" and he nodded.
But as strong and admirable as my son's stoic, "the-game-must-go-on" attitude was, after the first pitch, his focus began to deteriorate. Ball after ball he threw--inside, outside, high, low. Twice he struck the batters and they walked to first base. I watched Cameron go from a proud, in-control stance to my little, hurting boy--and how badly I wanted to go out there and comfort him! I called out some reassuring things from the bleachers--but not too much, because I've learned that moms' voices on the field can be a bit embarrassing for 10-year-olds. The inning was agony; I kept wishing the coach would just take him out and let the other pitcher finish the inning. But the coach left him in, and Cameron kept throwing; the other team moved ahead on the scoreboard; and eventually, we heard, "Strike three! You're out."
When the game was over, I watched anxiously for Cameron to emerge from the dugout. He came out, still with a bit of a swagger in his gait. But as soon as he saw me, his eyes filled with tears, and he pointed to the huge goose-egg bruise just below his bottom lip. His lip was swollen and the inside of his cheek was cut. "I didn't want to spit out the blood," he said. "That's gross." I hugged him and mussed his hair, kissing him quickly on top of the head. We headed home, mom and her weary warrior. On the way, he described all his aches and pains and spilled out the worst moments of the game. "Everything hurts," he said. "Anything that anybody could ever be to be miserable, I'm it."
At home, I fixed him ice cream while he took a shower. When I tucked him in, I said, "You know, you had a really tough game tonight and a few bad breaks. But you fought valiantly, and you stuck it out. You should be proud of yourself for that."
He lifted his head off his pillow and looked at me with a crooked, swollen-lip smile. "Hey, that gives me something good to dream about!" he said, and nestled happily under his covers, ready for well-earned sleep.
For Cameron, this is just one event in a lifetime of what will no doubt be many unexpected happenings. We get hit by balls and beset by bills; we find ourselves in situations we didn't ask for, and we face problems we didn't create. We don't always have a cheering section, and we sometimes have no clue what to do next. But we know we are loved by One who does know--One who walks with us, helps us to see the good in any situation, and gives us the strength to stick it out. And at the end of the day, those words, "Well done," will erase all memory of the bumps and bruises we get on our way back home to Him.