Three retired coaches from our local area died this past month. I had heard that Coach Turner was quite sick, so his death was not totally unexpected. But Coach McDonald died very unexpectedly at his home, and I did not even know that Coach Cooper was sick until I heard of his passing.
Needless, to say, their deaths saddened me deeply, but at the same time, they reminded me of how fragile and precious our lives really are. They also reminded me how much one life can impact another, for those three men definitely impacted me.
I taught for 23 years, but before that, I was the daughter of educators. I grew up in school buildings around teachers and teachers’ kids. I spent most of my childhood hours outside of school at baseball diamonds, basketball gyms, or football fields. The first sights, sounds, and smells I remember involve school and school activities.
A large part of my childhood involved moving from one school district to another as my father advanced in his career from teacher to coach to principal. It was hard to understand that new places meant new faces, new friends, and new blessings. And it was impossible to understand that those childhood moves were preparing me to be an Air Force wife.
It took me a long time to see those moves as positive experiences. In fact, as a small child leaving all that felt safe, secure, and known, and moving to a new school seemed like anything but a blessing – until Coach Turner.
I will never forget when he took the time to come into an empty schoolroom where I sat (probably moping and crying) on my last day at one particular school. First of all, I was only nine or ten, so the young, newlywed high school basketball coach didn’t have to even notice me or care enough to come and comfort me.
But he did, and he had the first grownup conversation with me that I ever remember. Coach Turner assured me of so many things, and he promised me that this next step was a new adventure, a way for me to meet more and more of the people who I needed to know, people important to my life – people I would be important to as well.
And he was right! Every move I have ever made in life brought me new friends, new adventures, and new blessings. And each experience brought me closer to Christ and closer to the person He was growing me to be.
So, yes, God can use one individual, even everyday teachers and coaches to impact others. I know that for sure because these three coaches impacted me and my family. And though I probably never told any of them how much they meant to me, my parents, or my sons, I believe I will be able to tell them so face-to-face when we share eternity with our Savior.
Which brings me to another thought: Have you ever wondered about or imagined those face-to-face heavenly encounters? What will it be like when we actually see our loved ones once again, or when we see Jesus face-to-face? What will that first moment in His presence be like?
Some friends and I were discussing that thought a while back, and I have been mulling it over and thinking about it some more since then.
Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus came back for me and I was kneeling on the floor desperately praying for all the other people I know? I would feel a whole lot better about the situation if that were the case.
The odds are not in my favor!
Instead, He will probably come back just about the time some crazy driver cuts me off at a red light (after an extremely hard day at work), and my attitude will not be too angelic. Or, He may come back after I have just finished off an entire pint-size (or possibly quart) bucket of that new Blue Bell key lime and mango tart ice cream. Better yet, He will probably come right at the precise moment that I am saying something extremely un-Christlike and totally unnecessary about something that is none of my business.
Whatever the scenario, nothing else will matter at that point. I am sure that I will fall on my face and worship Him. For in the light of His Glory, no one will be able to stand.
So, here was the big conclusion of our talk on this heavenly subject – He is already here; why wait? Jesus lives in us! The God of the universe, the Maker of heaven and earth, lives inside my earthen vessel. Why don’t I live like I understand and believe that?
That question leads me to something I read about the ancient monk, Brother Laurence. He had a philosophy of “practicing the presence of God.” He believed in acting like God was present – since He really is.
In his daily life, Brother Laurence walked with God, talked with Him, and made a space for Him everywhere he went. Some people saw it as the monk just pretending that God was there. But Brother Laurence believed that he was practicing for the day when it was not just God’s presence that was present – but God Himself.
In his autobiography, Laurence details his rather boring existence as a monk. Literally, the biggest chore of his life for years was peeling the potatoes for his fellow monks. How boring and mundane!
Yet, through his writings, this mundane monk (who lived hundreds of years ago) still teaches us how to do everything “as unto the Lord,” even peeling thousands of potatoes, day by day, year after year.
If Brother Laurence could peel potatoes in the presence of God, and if these three beloved, small-town coaches could use sports as a means of bringing kids into His presence, then we can all perform our daily tasks with an eternal awareness of that same amazing presence.
So, today, let us each dare to act, speak, teach, coach, and even peel potatoes like God is standing right beside us. After all, He is!