By Pat J. Sikora
On numerous occasions the psalmist injects that six letter grammatical signpost to grab our attention. He, and by inspiration, the Holy Spirit, doesnt want our inattentive minds to miss something of significance. In that same spirit I want to call you to observe something wonderful that could just as easily go by unnoticed. What do I want you to behold?
Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)
But let me set the stage as to why this is meaningful to all of us. We parents and coaches talk a lot about how different this league is. We pride ourselves on not being "Little League" parents, screaming at the umpire when we dont like a call. We affirm our commitment to character development over winning. But lets be honest. Dont we sometimes complain just a little? Dont we sometimes question judges decisions or the way a tournament is run? I know I do.
At the National Debate Tournament, I faced a challenge that has, over the past several weeks, begun a deep work of transformation in me. I have been kneaded like dough as Ive been forced to take another look at my own "Little League parenting."
As many of you know there was a tab room error in quarterfinals, which resulted in Samuel Hawkey and Timothy Heggem not advancing to the semifinal round. Because the mistake couldnt be undone, well never know if they would have been defeated in the very next round or if they would have gone on to win the tournament.
It was my privilege to help coach this team at the national tournament, so I had the rare opportunity to observe their responses "up close and personal." I understand that when they discovered the error during their ballot review, there was some initial shock and confusion. But by the time I learned about itprobably 10 minutes laterthey were both insisting that it was OK, that we not worry about it. When we did report it to Michael Farris, I had the shocking experience of hearing a 15 year-old boy say, "Its OK. Who am I to argue with the Sovereign God?" Or as Job put it, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 1:10).
Not argue? Are you kidding? What about the hundreds of hours of training, research, and practice? This is the National tournament were talking about! As a coach, I view one of my roles as being an advocate for my teams, going to bat for them when something unfair happens. As a mom, I love all of the kids almost as much as I do my own. Im so proud of every student who competes in this league. My heart aches when any of them face the slightest adversity. I admit that in my flesh, I wanted to chew up and spit out whoever was responsible for the error. My desire for justice wanted tograciously, of coursedemand that somebody do something! I confess that I can be double-minded in situations like this.
But what could be done? The tournament was over. The trophies and scholarships had been awarded. The winners had been honored. There was no way to "fix" this. "Its not fair!" welled up within me. Why did these boysor any teamhave to suffer from this human error? But as we all know, life isnt fair. We suffer every day from the unintentional human errors of others. The test is how we respond. Debate, as youve heard me say before, is a Life Skill.
We talk a lot in this league about the sovereignty of God. When my child or my team doesnt win a tournament or qualify for Nationals, I point to the sovereignty of God. When someone I dont think has earned a place qualifies, I point to the sovereignty of God. But is that merely an excuse, a rationalization we use to make ourselves feel better? Or do we really believe it? I confess that this incident took me deeper, far deeper, into the sovereignty of God and the character goals we say we want in this league than Ive ever been before.
But what of the many others affected by this mistake? How did they take it? What could they do? Behold, their reactions were equally gracious and were aimed at preserving peace and unity. For example, though on the road, the Rose and Stollar families called the Heggems and Hawkeys the following Monday to express their own grief and offer comfort to Samuel and Timothy. In an unprovoked act of kindness the Stollars and Roses offered to trade trophies, sacrificing what J.P. and Ryan had been publicly awarded.
the HSLDA, and Michael Farris in particular, also went the second mile to correct that which could be rectified. In San Diego, upon hearing of the error, his immediate response was to award additional scholarships to Patrick Henry College. He also arranged to have duplicate 3rd place trophies sent to both Timothy and Samuel. In an e-mail to the Heggems and Hawkeys, Mr. Farris said:
Again, we are very grieved that this happened. However, I will say that the character displayed by your two young men in response to this was so outstanding that I think it reflects qualities much more valuable than those necessary to win a national tournament. You probably see these qualities all the time, but I would have missed it. Even though I would have far rather we had done it right, I was deeply blessed by seeing young men of such outstanding character. My congratulations for developing young men in areas that are truly important.
Honor. Integrity. Grace. Mercy. Behold, the brethren were mutually displaying these traits toward each other and for each other in the name of Christ. The question I had to consider, and invite you to do the same, is this: Are we as parents and students truly more committed to character development than we are to winning? Or are those just the words we say because they sound right?
For some reason, in Gods providence, Ive only been an observer this time around. But I dont want to lose this experience that has been for me a wake up call. I hope you dont either. This type of character is not born in the moment. It doesnt come forth fully mature when something bad happens. Rather, it is born in a commitment to serve God, no matter what. It is rooted in a deep and abiding love of God and His word. It grows through faithfulness and perseverance in adversity at all times. It flowers in a lifetime of submission to the sovereignty of God.
Are these people, of who Ive written, super-saints? Did they not have even a moment of frustration or bitterness? Im sure they did. If it was easy I suppose the Apostle Paul wouldnt have had to remind us to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3). Im grateful to have "beheld" it on display with so many individuals at the National Tournament this year.
In 10 years, Ill probably have forgotten who won the 2000 National tournament, but I pray that I wont have forgotten this challege. I pray that each of us will commit ourselves more deeply to personally exhibiting the grace, mercy, character, and integrity we say we want in this league. I pray that we will use those times when life isnt fair to model godliness for our children and for those who watch us. I pray that we will commit ourselves to look beyond the moment, beyond the immediate, and recognize the character He is building in our kids and in us as parents. Yes, bad things do happen, but God is good and sovereign all the time.
Perhaps we arent Little League parents after all. I have "beheld" how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. May we strive, in our own spheres, to be diligent to preserve unity among the brethren whatever the cost!