Inspired by young women…

Tennis became my favorite sport as a teen. Being a child of the mountains in the ’70s and ’80s, athletic options were fairly limited for girls. The equal opportunity of Title IX had yet to make it to my hometown. I discovered tennis on TV. I loved the international flavor of competition, the sportsmanship most players showed (I was never a John McEnroe fan), and admittedly, the cute outfits the women wore. There was no team on which I could play, but my Dad brought out some old wooden racquets, and our family would hit around on local courts.

My high school did have a boys’ team, and even though I kept asking for a girls’ team, no coach cared enough to make it happen. The tennis coach asked me to be the manager for the boys’ team. He even gave me a Letter as a Senior for tennis. (Yes, I achieved an athletic Letter, even though I never played one point in a match.) He was a kind man – I was very organized and took care of a number of things he was too tired to care about – and I guess that was his way of thanking me. I haven’t kept much from high school, but I kept that letter – it’s on a cardigan sweater, with my academic Letter on the opposite side.

I am glued to the tv, and now my computer, and even phone, when the Grand Slams occur 4 times a year. A few years back, my friend Tracey and I went to the US Open for a few days. It was definitely some of the best days of my life.

Saturday’s evening match at the US Open was decidely memorable. Teen phenom, 15 year old Coco Gauff, played defending champ, 21 year old Naomi Osaka. Gauff made a good run at Wimbledon, taking out her idol Venus Williams along the way. Yet, Osaka’s game was too much for young Gauff, and the girl understandably found herself in tears at the end of the match.

TV matches always offer a quick interview with the winner. The other player normally makes a quick exit to the locker room, letting the winner bask in the glow for a few minutes on their own. The loser oftentimes just wants to get off the court and go cry or be angry without thousands or millions watching them. Yet, Saturday night was special. The video above shows Osaka comforting Gauff, and even encouraging her to be interviewed with her. This move was not only unusual – it was unheard of. Commentators were floored by the compassion and generosity.

These two young women of color displayed dedication, extremely hard work and effort, kindness, respect, and resilience. Venus and Serena have paved a way for young women of color to make their way in the tennis world, and beyond. In the midst of a society where white supremacists are still quite prominent, and quieter racism is a daily thing, it took far more than just athletic ability to make a name (and even the greatest name for Serena) in one of the whitest of sports in the US.

Osaka and Coco understand that making one’s way in the world, especially in a world dominated by patriarchy and racism, takes courage, cooperation, and community. The mutual respect and support displayed Saturday night provides a powerful message for all of us. When we support others, and lift them up, especially if they are seen as our “opponent,” our world will be all the better. And we ourselves will be all the better for it. It makes us better and stronger people to show compassion.

I look forward to seeing many more matches with Gauff and Osaka in the future. I enjoy their playing ability, but I appreciate who they are as leaders and role models even more.

 

 

Advertisements

Abandoned by God

IMG_20160323_142430062

I have chosen to ignore Holy Week in recent years. I am fully aware of the importance of this time for the Church year. In fact, I have preached and taught about it my entire career. Easter is the most holy day for Christians (not Christmas – it unfortunately has become the patron day for commercialization and the glorification of the family, no matter how dysfunctional or even abusive it might be). And as I have stated for years, Christians can’t really appreciate the wonder of Easter without knowing what happened the previous days. Yet, Christians consistently forgo the pain of Holy Week and focus instead on the flowers, eggs, candy, and pretty new outfits of Easter Sunday. In our society’s constant pursuit of happiness, we turn from pain towards the party.

Holy Week is tough. It deals with Jesus being frustrated to the point of anger, and abandoned by all his friends except for his mother and a couple close women disciples . It involved torture and capital punishment. The events of those few days are so agonizing that Jesus even asks why God has forsaken him as he hangs from the cross to which he is nailed.

At its core, Holy Week is about feeling abandoned by God. And so that’s why I chose to ignore it the past few years. Life had enough pain without wallowing in it for a few more days. I needed an Easter every day, not just one day each Spring.

The Church’s bemoaning of Easter Christians who ignore the other facets of the faith walk might be missing the truer realities of living in today’s world. Yes, there are some people who only want the party, but perhaps there are many more who simply cannot add one more hurtful event to their lives. Few days ever go by without someone sharing with me that she feels abandoned by the divine in the world, alone to face the hurt that life so often brings. Many countless people experience distress each day due to the lack of compassion or grace by the world around them. They are targeted due to gender, social class, race, sexual orientation, religion, or simply for decisions they make in life. Just as the majority of Jesus’ closest followers deserted him at the most difficult time of his life, too many people today are ignored or even blamed by the very people who call themselves Christian, and yet refuse to live as Jesus himself would.

How are Christians to observe this holiest of weeks? We are to observe it by doing everything in our power to alleviate the pain in this world – not by passing judgment, but by showing compassion and grace. We can pray for all the thousands of Muslims who have been terrorized and killed by ISIL. We can reach out to people who are different from ourselves, and truly listen to their stories, honestly attempting to comprehend their lives. We can fight for just laws which do not discriminate or alienate others. We can ensure a good education and safe and secure living environment for every child. We can follow the footsteps of Jesus, reaching out with compassion and grace to a world where the majority live the agonies of Holy Week each day.

 

Your Friends Are So Nice

“Your friends are so nice, Mom.” The words alone sounded like a compliment, but the tone from my teenage son definitely gave it a different meaning.

 “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. We sat beside each other on the first bench seat of my parents’ van, my parents in the front while my daughter and husband relaxed in the back. Late afternoon sunlight filled the car, as Dad drove along a two lane mountain road back to their house. A pleasant afternoon had been spent at the 50th anniversary reception for my oldest friend’s parents. The little church fellowship hall overflowed with food, pictures, family and well-wishers. My kids regularly see my dear friend, Sandra, and her family, but other childhood friends were present as well. These now middle-aged women were excited to meet my two teens, hear about their joys and dreams in life, and retell old stories for their entertainment.

 “Well, mom, I mean, they were just really sweet. It’s kinda hard to imagine those were your best friends growing up.”

 “Thanks for the compliment, buddy.” I responded with a fair amount of sarcasm.

 “Hey, don’t pick on my little girl,” my own mother chimed in with a laugh. “She’s very nice, too.”

 “Mom, you know what I mean,” Caleb added quickly. “It’s just – you know – they are really nice.”

 “And I’m not?” I bestowed a look that dared him to contradict me.

 “That’s not what I mean. But you know you can be critical.”

 “They haven’t been raising you, buddy.” The rest of the car’s inhabitants joined in the humor, as my poor boy smirked with chagrin.  “I know. I’m not as nice as they are. I can’t really explain why they wanted to be my friends – why we were all so close.”

 “Now, Amy,” Mom added. “You are as nice as they are. I just didn’t go around telling your faults to other people.”

 “Well, thanks for that, Mom.” I grinned, as Caleb continued to defend himself. In the weeks that followed that day, and in reflection on my son’s comments, I have pondered how I grew up with a very nice bunch of girls – girls who always had kind words for others, who never saw the bad in someone else, who worked hard, who loved their families, girls who were loyal and true friends. I realize my own family of origin modeled this for me. It didn’t mean we were blind to the faults of others. But it did mean that we showed grace and kindness in the face of others’ faults, because none of us were perfect. I thought about how great my friends looked physically – in the midst of their 40s – and realized that harsh lines of judgment, envy, and hate had not marked their features. I examined my own face in the mirror and yet could not be certain if those lines were there or not. I always knew they were nicer than I – as my son so obviously exposed to the rest of the family – but did it show on my face as it did on theirs?

 Those girls taught me a lot when we were little – more things than I can remember. And these wonderful women still are teaching me. They teach me and remind me each day that living a life of grace, compassion and forgiveness is the best way to truly live.