So much more than just a basketball game.

I'm in a comfortable chair in the coffee shop, Stephen delivered to a frosty field on this early Sunday morning. I volunteered for the early shift, even though sleep was ridiculously short last night. I want the time to sit here to put it all in words, to give thanks, to actually count. It doesn't matter the hour or the weather. I am warm-- basking really--in the afterglow of the nearly Perfect Day that was yesterday. So, I sit here in this familiar chair and I hope I can write without spilling tears all over again. No matter, this chair has seem me cry before.

Friday night, Christian's team won a semi-final game to land itself in the ODACS State Basketball Championship. The rest of the team spent the night in Fredericksburg, but we all hauled it back home because Christian wears many hats during basketball season and two of them are coach of his little brothers' teams. He was up very early to coach 9-12 year-olds through two intense nail biters. Both boys came away victorious, ensuring that the next week will be a whirl of playoff games and unpredictable schedules.

We had a few brief moments at home and then we got back in the van, Granddad riding shotgun, and drove south again. I felt sick the whole way. At first I thought it was just that I'd tried to knit and knitting in the car has the same effect on me as reading. Then I recognized that I was over-the-top anxious about this game, crazy worried about the boy next to me, the one with the heart of gold. The one always seems to just have things harder than everyone else. Please God, please, something good for Christian.

It's been my incessant prayer really, for as long as I can remember. I used to itemize, but somewhere along the way, I just asked for something--anything--that would make him smile. Really, really smile effusive joy. Smile the way he used to when he was a little boy and we could keep his world all safe and quiet, control all the things that are so hard. I want this, worry this, so much. Please God, just something good. This, this day, this would be good. Please. Before we left, I had recognized that Christian had slept in the interim between coaching and heading to his game. He didn't eat with everyone else. I had offered him pretty much everything a refrigerator and pantry can hold. He wanted none of it. Even though he has grown to manly heights, this child still has all the sensitivites he had as a little boy. Food has to be just so. We didn't have time for just so.

In desperation, I had grabbed four pieces of fresh bread from the bread box and warmed them, then threw them on a paper plate. Riding next to him I noticed that he was indeed eating the bread, headphones firmly in place, blocking the rest of the world, just chewing and thinking and listening.

What was going on in that head? How could I climb inside? I remembered the night before, the noise in that place. Noise! Christian's nemesis is noise. We've known this from his infancy. He was the child who cried and fretted through his baptism and the party folllowing. As soon as the last guest left and quiet returned, he was content. I remembered that there, sitting in the midst of the other team's fans Friday night, as the guy behind me kept yelling "Get in front of 24. Just stop 24! If you stop 24, it's easy!"


My son is number 24. All I could do not to turn around and beg the man to please stop yelling. Instead, I remembered 5-year-old Christian in the blazing sun, crumpled in the middle of the soccer field. "I can't do this! I hate this game! All these people yelling! And it's hot! I can't do this. I hate people yelling." And really, he never did play youth soccer again.



He wanted basketball. A little more climate controlled. Not necessarily quieter, but all his. He didn't want to be stuck in the middle--between the golden-haired boy four years older who would always get there before him and the boy who has already achieved more than most young athletes dream. He wanted his sport. His own. Funny thing, it's not really his, though. This family began with a first date: State Basketball Championship In Charlottesville thirty years ago. His hand slipped in mine. On the way to forever. Basketball was daddy's game long before soccer. We are, really, a basketball family. And in the winter, we go to four or five games a weekend, cheering for each of them as if the game is that first championship so long ago-- from the biggest, to the very littlest (newsflash: Katie scored SIX baskets last weekend). And Christian coaches. He is the leader, fair and square. His are the eyes those little boys seek when they look for praise or guidance on the court. He is their hero. He is the coach known throughout town for winning, and for never yelling.



We traveled on, getting closer to the game. I wanted to talk to him--to tell him that even if this comes so close and ends in disappointment that there is  much good here. But I couldn't really disturb the bubble he created for himself. Please God, something good for Christian. I noticed that the bread is nearly gone. Bread. These days, bread always brings to mind Eucharisteo. I wondered how I might convey Eucharisteo to Christian in the van, with all these people around. And then, Colleen called. "Hey," comes the sweet, southern drawl of dear friend, "I just wanted you to know that I know that this is so much more than a basketball game and I'm dropping my boys off and then going to church to spend game time in front of the Eucharist."

Eucharisteo. Tell him.

I tapped Christian on the knee after talking with Colleen and told him how she was going to spend the afternoon. A slow smile spread across his face. He was pretty sure no one else had that kind of prayer in his corner. Back to chewing and listening. I took my phone in my hands and sent two more messages--out to dear friends who would pray the blessing of thanks with me. Now, how to give that blessing to Christian now, so that thanksgiving might fill the moments with grace and keep him in the present? Could thanksgiving help him before the whistle even blew?

I sent him a text as he left the car:

Notice all the moments. Really live them. God is in those moments and no matter what there will be moments where you can give thanks. That's where He loves you. In the "Thank God" moments. I'm so, so proud of you. I'm praying you through every moment. There will be glorious ones today!

I could give you a play by play of the game, but honestly, I'd have to have Nicky here to help me remember stats. It was close. Really close. From the first time he held the ball, I prayed. At first, I called upon his saints, his great cloud of witnesses--John Paul II, John Bosco, every saint I could think of with a heart for boys. Then, I remembered that this prayer (something good for Christian) has been a St. Andrew's intention for years. I asked Andrew to pray, too.  Every time he touched the ball, every time he defended, I asked. And every time the basketball went through that hoop and caused the basket to sway with grace, I thanked. I held my fingertips to my chin and signed "thank you." I needed the gesture of the moment.


Thumb frantically spinning that prayer ring, I couldn't keep the prayers straight. That great cloud of witnesses, they were cheering-- but the noise was distracting me. I called to mind a verse sent to me the day before, for an entirely different intention.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,

{Colossians 1:9}

This boy is the one I held after those begging prayers of cancer. Since the day I heard about him, I have asked God to please, please bless him and protect him. Please, please help know how loved he is. Sweet Jesus, he is named for you. Please, please, bless him with joy. I settled into a rhythm of my own. A simple rhythm. When he held the ball, I begged Bless him. And then, Thank You. He didn't always have that ball, though, and sometimes it was in the hands of the boy who has spent much of this basketball season sleeping on the couch in my basement. Could I bless and thank for him, too? The boy who had no mama or daddy here to pray him through these moments? I could. And I did. And though I doubt I will see that child again, he will forever be in my prayers.

The game played on. Me spinning and blessing and thanking. On and on and on. I briefly tried to remember how I got here, a Catholic mom of nine, sitting on a Saturday in a Baptist church. Christian brought me here. The child who is too shy to order pizza walked into a gym one day a few years ago and asked to play. It was the only place he could play and he wanted to play. The Baptists welcomed him. And I found myself sitting next to the pastor's wife as the mintues ticked on. She saw my mama-heart. She knew how much more than a game this was. And she was praying, too. I was grateful. Grateful for her. Grateful for open arms.



With 2:17 left on the clock, my boy smiled. He smiled a smile I haven't seen in way too long. Not the shy, slow smile we coax from him. A big, wide little boy grin.  He smiled and he leapt and he shouted joy!



"Do you think we're safe now?" asked the pastor's wife. No, not yet. I couldn't smile just yet. This child has been disappointed too many times. Even he believed it now. But not me. Because the thought of him hurting now was more than I could bear. Keep praying. Keep thanking.


The final buzzer. The explosion of happy!




Mike texted Patrick, who was sitting in airport, waiting to hear, no doubt praying his own prayers, remembering his own moments, calling on the saint he knows so well. And he texted Michael, who was heroically following the day's activities via cell phone, while coaching second grade girls. Then he turned to celebrate with me. He found me in a puddle, tears falling faster than I could wipe them away. Not quite sobbing, but close. Little boy, grab that joy. All of it. Grab it and hold it forever. That man, the one whose voice endeared him to me first at a basketball game, pulls me close, and says as his lips brush my ear, "It's his moment. All his. He has his moment. It's good."



He is the State Champion

He is the Tournament Most Valuable Player


His moment.

All his. God knew. He knew that Christian needed a moment that was all his.And He blessed.

Something good for Christian.



Counting gifts:

~Chapter 7

~praying friends, who never think it's just a game

 ~Granddad fist bumping Nicky

~Little Maggie, baby daughter of the Athletic Director and of the coach, granddaughter of the pastor, sitting in her grandma's arms, entertaining my little girls. I can watch, really watch, the whole game.

~Delph's dad. Wise words. Heart touched.

~Boy without family to watch. Playing for his team, looking to Christian's father for both nods and admonition.

~Mike. Every play. Every call. Every buzzer. His heart calls his son.


~Pastor's wife. Praying, too.

~I look up in the stands to find my dad and Barbara in the moments after the buzzer. Do they know? Do they know how much more than a game this is? My dad is looking-- at me. He knows my heart.



~Clean house when we get home; Michael soothes when Mama is worried.

~Little girls who napped on the long ride, wide awake to greet Paddy well past bedtime.

~Patrick and Christian in the kitchen at midnight. Quiet grace.

~All nine children asleep under my roof. All nine children happy.

~Words I whisper to Christian in the morning when I wake him: It really happened. It wasn't a dream. He smiles that big smile into his pillow and sleeps on.

~Something good for Christian.

{photo credit: all photos by Mary Beth except the one of me. My dad took that.}