This week a professor at Westmont asked me for a picture of myself coaching to put on their website to advertise the credential program. I asked our fabulous yearbook gal/my fabulous friend if there were any on stock from last year and she sent over some pretty ridiculous pictures. I've reached a few conclusions looking at these pictures:
1- It's impossible to look intense and cute at the same time.
2- I really do look like the White Witch from Narnia.
3- I should NEVER coach in sleeveless shirts. (I'm not degrading myself- I realize I have manly arms. Always have. When I was FOUR, a stranger asked my mom if they made me lift weights)
After laughing at myself and my ridiculous faces and poses, I forwarded the pictures along to the prof and told her to choose the one she thought least embarrassing. Only I accidentally sent it to the wrong person and got an e-mail from a fellow teacher at Valley saying, "I have enjoyed seeing these pictures of you, but is there a reason you're sending them to me?"
Don't you hate when that happens?
I figure I reveal some pretty embarrassing truths about me on here, I might as well reveal some embarrassing pictures. I'll be honest, these weren't even the really bad ones. I'm kinda hoping the prof chooses the one of me yelling during a time-out since I have a killer lazy eye in that one. When I e-mailed her, I mentioned that this has been my favorite year teaching and coaching and, apart from that marvelous peak during 5th grade when we had a class parrot and boys thought jocks and book worms were cool, probably my favorite year of life.
She thanked me for the pictures of my arms and then asked me why this year has been my favorite. This forced me to pause and think. I love questions that do that. I had made a bold statement and though it is truth, I truthfully hadn't thought much about why it was true; I just knew that I've been fantastically content this year- laughing and smiling more than I ever have.
I realized this has been the best year not just because my car is finally paid off or because my adult acne is finally clearing up; it's something bigger. It's a lot of somethings but they all boil down to one central idea: community.
It's no secret that when I first came to Valley, I was a little depressed and wanted to leave. My players kindly refer to those first months as, "the time when you hated us." I didn't hate them. I just didn't like them that much at all. In fact, I purposely chose a church where no Valley students attended so I wouldn't have to see them or their parents on Sundays. In my defense, I was suffering from a mean bout of "reverse culture shock" and though I knew I wasn't supposed to still be in Africa, I really didn't want to be at Valley. One of my very first posts was about how much I hated being at Valley but I lied and told everyone I loved it. Part of the reason that time was so dark for me was because I resisted joining any community.
I am an introvert in every sense of the word and get my energy from alone time. I spend most of my day "on stage" as a teacher and then refuel my energy supplies by long stretches of time by myself. That first year at Valley, those first few months, I holed myself up in my room after school and shut the world out completely. I'd occasionally emerge and force myself to make friends but people required energy- energy I didn't have to give. So, for the most part, I read and hung out with Dotty. Yes, I was showing all the signs of turning into a crazy, cat-lady. But as I spent time alone in the Word, God was continually pushing me towards something that I'm just finally embracing; He was pushing me towards community.
I used to think it was overrated. I'd hear my friends talk about their communities and though I was always a teensy bit jealous, I convinced myself that I didn't need it. I'd tell myself that they were just bragging about their communities but they didn't really like them as much as they seemed to. I had my family and they were enough. Granted, my family is pretty remarkable and this year has been so fabulous mainly because of them, but in the back of my mind, I knew I was being disobedient by refusing to get involved at church. I knew I was missing out on something, but I was being stubborn; stubborn enough to not care just what it was that I was missing out on; stubborn enough to ignore that nagging sensation often referred to as the Holy Spirit.
Much has transpired since 2008, but the main reason this year is better than the past is because I finally started listening to that nagging sensation. And better yet, I finally started obeying. I grew to love my students so I stopped avoiding them and joined the church I probably should have been attending all along. Then the pastor kept speaking about the importance of transformation happening when you are in community. So after about the third sermon about it, I finally bit the bullet and joined a transformation group and started one of my own for students. Suddenly, and not so surprisingly, I felt very connected. I felt encouraged and uplifted and accountable and have been being transformed by the Spirit mainly because of the community surrounding me. And while my cat still is the one who greets me each day with a meow and a head rub, I no longer fear I that I am turning into the lonely, demented cat-lady.
God has been impressing upon my heart lately the beauty of this body of believers whom I can call mine. The most important members of this community, of course, are the members of my home team. According to Shauna Niequist, author of Bittersweet, these are the:
"people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens. It's the people who, near or far, know everything that's wrong with you and love you anyway. The home team people are the ones you can text with five minutes' notice, saying, I'm on my way, and I'm bringing tacos."
My Home Team is rock solid and fabulous but this post is about the people who didn't make the cut, those who don't know my middle name and don't offer to bring me tacos, but still surround me, whose presence and faith encourage me, who want the best for me and cheer for me. Literally cheer, and quite loudly at that.
During the play-offs, I have been blown away by the Valley community. Our first play-off game was at home and I was nothing short of shocked when we came out of the locker room and were greeted by a gym teeming with supporters; supporters holding pom poms. They screamed with gusto for our team, even when we just made a simple lay-up, and we fed off their energy. We played faster and harder than ever before because of this marvelous mass of bodies. And when the other team pushed one of my girls out of bounds, this crowd caught her and then booed the girl who had done the shoving. Then when that same shover literally kicked, yes kicked, our girl in the shins, this same crowd sprung into action with more of their boo's. They had our backs, and it felt wonderful. Community does this for you. They have your back and boo at people who push you around.
The next game was also at home and by the time the game began, the gym was bursting at the seams with fans. I had never seen anything like this as a coach and only once as a player. Students came out in groves; the jocks, the dorks, freshmen and seniors, they all were there. And so were many of their parents. Our best player happens to be a pastor's kid so no less than half the church also packed the stands. Little girls and boys along with old women and men all squeezed together on the wooden bleachers to cheer us on. The opposing team brought fans as well and the two crowds battled it out the whole game, competing to see who could yell louder and longer and be more obnoxious slash more supportive. Our side won. That's probably a big part of the reason our team won. Well, that and Kari making 5 three pointers in 3 minutes.
The excitement in the gym that night was tangible. The girls felt it as they played and drank of its sweetness afterwards as the students poured out of the stands to hug and congratulate them:
The next game was the semi-final game and it was almost a 2 hour drive from our city. We expected our parents and the cheerleaders to come and were okay with a smaller crowd since we were expected to lose. But this community surprised me again, and when we emerged from the locker room, they had again packed the stands and were spilling over onto the other teams' side. It was fabulous.
I can think of very few situations in life when you can walk into a gym and the crowd explodes in applause. Talk about a confidence-booster. My girls ate it up. And then they played with heart and poise and came crazy close to beating a team that should have womped on us. We lost by five and though it was disappointing because we had gotten so close, I could not have been prouder of my team or our fans.
I know we would not have played as well as we did during that game if not for the faces that filled the stands, if not for the voices chanting "MVP" when Kari started the game by making a NBA three while getting knocked to the floor; if not for the explosions of applause when we stole the ball; if not for the hoots and hollers when the refs didn't see the dirty fouls by the other team. We were disappointed about the loss but felt so loved and supported that it was hard to be too bummed. Plus, we had qualified for the State Tournament so we still had at least one more week of practice and at least one more game. Even though my team was not exactly in a "smiling" mood right after the game, I made them stand in front of the student section and take a picture. I wanted them to realize that regardless of our loss, we should be grateful for the ways we are so supported by so many.
The next day at church, I sat between two girls/women (females in their 30's who are too old to be called girls and too hip to be called women) who I don't know very well but both asked me all about the game and knew all about our season. Then on Monday, several students and teachers expressed their outrage with the refs and the missed calls and even my chiropractor knew we had lost and asked me about it. This is the community I live in. These people aren't members of my home team. They don't know about my fears or doubts or insecurities, but they surround me and spur me on. They are necessary parts of Christian living. Not that everyone has to have a crowd that erupts in applause when you appear, but we do all need community.
I'm learning more and more about how Christianity cannot be lived out in isolation. If I truly want to live like Jesus did and stay in step with the Spirit, I have to surround myself with a community that is striving for this as well. If I really want to live counter-culturally, loving my neighbors, swallowing my pride, and forgiving when I want to slander, I need to be watching others do this too. If I want to continue to grow and be transformed by the Spirit, I need others around me whose faith will encourage me and challenge me and spur me on towards love and good deeds.
A crowd of angry fans screaming, "You're terrible" at a ref might not exactly "spur me on towards love and good deeds" but it does remind me that I am part of a community that supports each other, that cheers for each other and defends one another. And being a part of this community, diving in and swimming in it, rather than avoiding it, has made all the difference this year.