Tuesday, May 6, 2008

AMAZING GRACE on a softball field

I shared this story in a recent message entitled "Grace-full Living." There were so many favorable comments I want to repeat it here for those in the blogsphere.
In a time when many of our sports stories are about steriods or high-profile arrests, it’s good to hear a sports story that stars grace.
It happened a few days ago at a woman’s college softball game in Ellensburg, Washington. The two teams, Central Washington and Western Oregon were playing for a spot in the league playoffs. It was the most meaningful game of their careers.
There was no score in the top of the second inning, when senior Sara Tucholsky stepped to the plate with two runners on base. Sara was a substitute outfielder who stood only 5 feet 2 inches tall and was batting only 3 for 34 for the season. Sara had never hit a home run in high school or in her four years of playing in college.
She was an easy target for the home-team hecklers who sat behind home plate. She took the first pitch - a strike. Then she swang at the second pitch and when she hit it she knew it was out of the park. She looked up to see the ball sail over the center field fence.

Sara was jumping with joy as she rounded first base - so much so that she missed the bag. So she reversed her direction to return to tag the base - and that’s when disaster struck. Sara’s tendon in her knee snapped and she collapsed on the field.

The two players on base had already crossed home plate, leaving Sara as the only offensive player on the field. She was crumpled on the ground a few feet from first base and a long way from home plate. The rules of the game stipulated that if any of her teammates or coaches touched her on the field of play that she would be called out. Sara was weeping as she painfully crawled to first base. Her coach thought the only option was to substitute a pinch runner for Sara, but since she had only touched first, that would take away the home-run and change it into a single. So, it looked like the only home run of Sara’s career would be canceled.

That’s when grace showed up. As the coach was preparing to substitute a runner for Sara, Mallory Holtman, the first baseman for the opposing team stepped up and asked, "Excuse me. Would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?" Mallory was the star hitter for the Central Washington team. She was also a senior and had been putting off a couple of knee surgeries herself until the season was over. Now with her post-season career on the line, she offered to help a player who she only knew as her opponent for the past four years.

The umpires conferred and agreed that while none of her teammates could touch her on the field of play there was no rule that prohibited the opposing team members from carrying her around the bases.
So Mallory enlisted the help of her shortstop, Liz Wallace, and the two girls gently picked Sara up and started carrying her around the bases. As the home crowd realized what was happening they started standing to their feet and cheering this act of graceful kindness.
As she talked about what happened Mallory said, "We all started to laugh at one point, I think when we touched the first base. I don't know what it looked like to observers, but it was kind of funny because Liz and I were carrying her on both sides and we'd get to a base and gently, barely tap her left foot, and we'd all of a sudden start to get the giggles a little bit."

When they arrived at home plate, Sara’s teammates met her with tears in their eyes as they congratulated her for her first and only home run of her career. The fans were standing and cheering as they carried Sara back to the dugout.

Then Mallory and Liz returned to their positions to try to win the game that would extend their softball careers into the playoffs. If Hollywood had been writing the script, then Mallory and her team would win and go to the playoffs, but they ended up losing the game 4-2 and were eliminated.
But Mallory didn’t regret for a second what she did. In fact she told a television reporter, "In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much. It was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she needed help."
What a display of grace-living! My definition of grace is "God giving me what I NEED rather than what I DESERVE." Mallory and Liz didn’t give Sara what she DESERVED - a single and a record without a homer. Instead, they gave her what she NEEDED. They didn’t give her justice, they showed her grace.
Do you think that would have happened in a Yankees/Red Sox game? If a professional ballplayer was injured while running a base the opposing team would tag him out in a heartbeat and say, "he got what he DESERVED!"

I when I first saw the story of Mallory and Liz carrying Sara around the baseball diamond, I couldn’t help but think what a perfect illustration that is of God’s grace.
Like Sara, each of us has been tripped up and injured by our own sin. None of us could make it home on our own because we’re all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. The law is like an umpire that says, "You’re OUT!"
But Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth, came to us and extended nail-scarred hands, and said, "Excuse me. Would it be okay, if I carry you home?" And it is because of His grace, and His grace alone, that we can arrive safely home.
As the beautiful old song says, "In loving kindness Jesus came; my soul in mercy to reclaim; and from the depths of sin and shame; THROUGH GRACE He lifted me! From sinking sand, He lifted me; with tender hand; He lifted me! From shades of night; to plains of light; oh, praise His name, He lifted me!" (Words by Charles Gabriel, 1905)
And that's just another reason why God's grace is so amazing!
Comments? Email me at david@mail.gabc.org