It has been my privilege since 1984 to have been hosted innumerable times by Nelson Cook in my years in sport ministry, the most recent was in 2009 where I addressed coaches over breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Nelson Cook drew his latest contribution from W Brice Cameron in "Directly to the Mailbox". Someone once asked me, "If you could be any person in the world, who would it be?" To which I responded without hesitation, "My eleven-year-old son." My boy's life is one where the less pleasant elements of reality rarely intrude. His eyes unfocused, his mouth emitting sound effects, he drifts around in serene oblivion, almost never concerned about anything.
Last Saturday I interrupted his reverie and asked him to check to see if the mail had arrived. He responded agreeably enough, though it took several reminders before he actually was out the door. I went to the window to observe his progress. He made a strong start, striding purposefully toward the mailbox at the end of our driveway.
Then something caught his eye and he stopped, frowning. He bent over and picked it up: A stick. It fit into his hand like a Colt pistol, and he swivelled, eyeing the trees for enemies. He spotted a couple and dove for cover, firing as he rolled. Air-planes swooped down and he switched to ground-to-air mode, jubilating when the missiles hit their targets. He spoke into his radio and did something to his forehead, probably putting on his night vision goggles. I lost sight of him as he snaked around the corner of the house.
Half an hour later he tromped in, exuberant over his military victory. I stopped him in the hallway. "Did you get the mail?" He stared at me blankly, and I wondered whether he even knew who I was. "You were going out to get the mail," I reminded him. His focus cleared. "Oh, yeah." "Did you get it?" His expression indicated he wasn't sure. "Why don't you try again," I suggested. Back out the door. I winced as he glanced at a tree branch, but he didn't appear tempted. His eyes acquired radar lock on the mailbox, and I sighed in relief.
Lying next to the mailbox was a football which had drifted there at the end of a neighbourhood game a few weeks ago. He scooped the ball up in his arms and swerved, dodging tackles. Touchdown! I put my hands on my hips and watched him toss the ball into the air, calling for a fair catch. First down. He took the ball, fading back, out of the pocket and in trouble. I shook my head as I was treated to the spectacle of my son sacking himself for an eight-yard loss. He jumped up and shook his finger, urging his blockers to stop the blitz.
They seemed to heed his admonitions. On the next play he rolled left and threw right, a fantastic pass which found him wide open thirty yards down-field. He trotted into the end zone and gave the crowd a mile-high salute.
When I checked back at half-time to see who was winning, mankind was on the brink. The football was jammed up inside his shirt, and he was struggling forward on his knees, looking like a soldier crawling through the desert. He had pulled the lawn mower out of the garage, and as he fell toward it, gasping, he pulled the sacred pigskin from his shirt and, with the last reserves of his strength, touched it to the engine. He died, but civilization was saved by his heroic efforts. No word on whether, with this triumph, mail would be delivered.
Still no mail
I met him at the door, pierced through his fog, and asked him to get the mail. He agreed in such as fashion as to indicate this was the first he'd heard of the subject. There was a skip in his step as he headed down the driveway, and he was making so much progress so quickly I felt my hopes growing, particularly when he reached out and actually touched the mailbox. Alas, he was only stopping to talk to it. Conferring in low tones, he nodded, squinting into the distance. He raised the mail flag, igniting the retrorockets strapped to his back. He throttled to full power and then dropped the flag, firing off into space with his arms outstretched like Superman.
He was nowhere in sight when, half an hour later, I went out to get the mail.
Bob Wieland, a Vietnam medic, who walked across America on his hands (his legs were blown off by a booby trap mine), told me, "The Joy was in the journey."
Don't lose the wonder
Coaches, parents – don't lose the wonder, the joy, the childlike encounters you can have every day. They help you see and listen to God a little better. Don't take things too seriously, or you'll miss the purpose for which God placed them in your life.
I was asked by a pastor once, when at a day-care centre a little boy called out my name and ran to hug my leg, if I saw anything special in that. I said, "A little boy who knows and likes me ran to hug my leg." He asked, "Is that all? Didn't you see God loving you through that boy?" I never thought of it.
God has given you teams to coach, families to raise, friends and neighbours to cherish, and life to experience abundantly (John10 verses 10). Don't let the enemy of your soul steal any of it.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html