Friday, October 23, 2009

An Endless Summer: A Funeral Message

All right, now I'm going to ask you to do something you have never done before at a funeral service. And I want you to do it with all the enthusiasm and energy you can muster in this moment. Everyone please stand to your feet, lock arms if you like, and sing with me, give it all you've got.

"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
And we’ll root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."

 
Thanks, you may be seated. Ross is smiling now. His may be the only funeral that has ever had a seventh inning stretch.

It just seems appropriate to sing that song for a guy like Ross, a man who lived and breathed baseball. No other interest or sport measured up to baseball and softball for him.

Amy told me about the time she and her dad were trying to  convince Ross to go to watch NASCAR with them. Ross put up a good fight. He said, “Why would I want to go watch those guys going round and round,  just turn left, go left, go left, go left, all day long?”

Amy said, “Well, that’s sounds like exactly what I’ve been watching you do for 20 years.” Ross lost that argument and went to the race. But baseball and softball were always his first love, his passion.

It doesn’t matter whether Ross was your teammate or your coach, he was teaching all the time, he was showing you how it’s done, he was mentoring and encouraging, he was playing the game. And somewhere between the innings and the outs, after all the hits and the homers, Ross was teaching us something else, something bigger, something far more important than the outcome of any one baseball game. Ross Dey was coaching us about life and faith and the things that matter most.

Life, like baseball, is a team sport. What you do in baseball you do together as a team. Whatever victories or championships you might win, you must win together. It’s not like tennis or golf or boxing, where one person goes it alone. Baseball is all about the team.

And what you learned from playing with Ross or playing for him applies in life just like in baseball. Life is a team sport. It’s not all about you. It’s not all about me. It’s about us, it’s about we, not me.

Ross was that kind of teammate and that kind of friend. He cared about relationships. If Ross was your friend, than you had a friend for life. Now, he might give you a hard time, or pin some crazy nickname on you, and he might tease you mercilessly, but in a pinch, you could count on Ross. He was a true friend and teammate.

And it ran even deeper with his family. Ross loved his family so much. You could tell what kind of son he was and what kind of brother. You could see his love for Amy and Jordan and Logan, so obvious, so strong. He was so proud of you.

And all of us gathered here today, want to say to you, Amy, and Jordan and Logan, and all of your family, just like we could all count on Ross, now you can count on us. The kind of friend that Ross has been to so many of us is the kind of friend we will be for you and your family. Count on it. Count on us. We are all here for you. We’ll be part of your team.

And, in baseball and in life, nobody bats a thousand. It’s the truth, isn’t it? Nobody’s perfect. No one gets a hit every time. Seems like for every homer, there’s a strike out. There were pitches we took that we should’ve hit, ground balls we booted, bad throws we made, errors we committed, in baseball and for sure, in life. The Bible says it like this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

In life, we are all Bill Buckners. We’ve all let that easy ground ball get under our glove, go right through our legs at one time or another. Like Jose Canseco, we all been bonked on the head by fly balls we should’ve caught. Plenty of mistakes in life. No one makes every play and nobody bats a thousand. All have sinned.

And that’s where our faith comes in. That’s when we need the grace of God and the forgiveness that comes through Christ. We need a Savior who doesn’t throw us out, He welcomes us. He doesn’t eject us, He forgives us. God doesn’t kick us off the team. Instead, He adopts us as His own children.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV)

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a NIV)

In baseball and in life it is important to finish well. You know what I mean, don’t you? If you hit a ground ball to short, you’d better run it out, hustle down that line. Don’t you dog it. Don’t you give up on a play until the play is made.

Play to the last pitch. Stay in the game until the last strike. The game isn’t over until it’s over. It isn’t over till the “full-figured” lady sings.

Ross Dey has given us all an unforgettable example, a stirring lesson about finishing well. If attitude and determination alone could make a person well, Ross would still be with us. We watched him fight off his cancer and push it back into remission. We saw him struggle with all manner of treatments and chemo and radiation. He endured all kinds of symptoms and sickness and traveled back and forth to hospital after hospital.

Are you listening to the coach today, because he’s still teaching us? Coach Dey is saying, don’t quit. Don’t give in. Whatever you are up against, keeping fighting, keeping hustling, keep trying, and if you go down, you better go down swinging. Go down knowing full well you gave everything you had, everything you’ve got, you gave it all for your family, for your friends, for your team, for your God.

The scripture promises God’s best blessings for those who endure, those who refuse to quit, those who finish well:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:6b-8 NIV)

Ross finished well, with courage and grace, with a heart filled with love and gratitude.

Here’s a truth we may not want to learn, but it’s the reality for all of us. We don’t really know how many innings we get to play. We know that nine innings are standard in baseball, sometimes we get to play extra innings, and occasionally, the game is cut short. And in life most of us would love to have the standard nine innings and even a few extra, but we know it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes the game is called. Some days we go home early. There are no guarantees. We don’t know how many innings we get to play in this life, and when it’s over, it’s over. When the umpire says we’re done, we’re done.

So, what does that mean for us? I think it means that every inning of every game and every hour of every day matters, really matters. Every moment, every heartbeat is a gift of God’s grace. Each golden moment of our lives is filled with wonderful potential, great opportunities to come through in the clutch, to make a difference, to sacrifice for someone you love, to drive someone home.

The scripture says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)

And finally, our faith in Christ reminds us, there’s always next year. For the Christian, there is always eternity.  

In these months and years of Ross’s illness, I watched and listened and saw Ross’s fear deepen into a strong faith. He didn’t waste a lot of time wondering “Why me?” No whining or fit-throwing. And he didn’t get hardened and bitter about the cards he was dealt.

Ross came to grips with his own mortality and learned through his long struggle that the faith that he possessed was stronger than he realized. Ross found a peace for himself, a confidence that God would see him through and keep his promises.

But, like you might guess, the hard part for Ross was the thought of leaving his family, Amy and Jordan and Logan. He fought so hard and clung to life so tightly, not because he was afraid for himself, but because he was worried about his family and he couldn’t turn loose of his responsibility to be there for them, to care for them, to provide for them.

In our last few conversations, we talked about how he would always be a part of his boy’s lives and how he could trust God not only with his own eternity, but to care for his family, for Amy and the boys. God can be trusted even with those most precious to us, those who go on ahead and those who must stay behind.

God is faithful in life, in death, and in eternity, until at last we are together again in his glorious presence. Ross knew the truth. For the Christian, there is always next year, an eternity awaiting us.

I’m dreaming of an endless summer, a whole new season, the smell of freshly cut grass, the bright white chalk down the lines, players stretching out and loosening up, the first day of baseball in an endless eternal summer.

I remember when I was a kid we had a great big vacant lot right next to our house, and all the kids in the neighborhood would gather to play baseball on warm summer evenings. Plenty of kids, there were eight of us, four of the Roberson kids, Madoles had nine kids and I think Griefe’s had four, and a few others who always showed up. I was just about the youngest kid out there, kind of like Logan playing with the big kids.

We played for hours, not much equipment, a few wood bats, most of us had gloves, a few boards and an old Frisbee were our bases, but we didn’t care. Boy, did we have some fun. You know cause you played games like that, too.

And I remember, as the sun began to sink behind Mr. Sim’s house, my dad would step out on the back porch and call my name. I guess since I was the little guy, I had to come in a little early. “It’s time to come in, Drew.” “Aw, Dad, we’re still playing the game. It’s 42 to 36, and I get to bat next inning.” But, he never changed his mind. If it was Mom, I would’ve argued more, but my father was always firm but kind.

“It’s time for you to come on home, son.” “Okay, Dad. I’m comin’.” And I would put my little glove on the end of my trusty Al Kaline 28 inch Louisville Slugger, and with my bat and glove on my shoulder I’d hike it in.

“Why do I have to come in now, Dad?” He put his hand on my head and tossled my hair. “Don’t worry, son. Go wash up. You’ve got a lot more ballgames to play.”

Well, Ross, I guess it's time for you to go on home. We'll sure miss you. I know you didn't want to go just yet, but don't you worry. Your Heavenly Father says you've got a lot more ballgames to play.


2 comments:

Annie said...

"It's time for you to come on home, Son." This line says it all. And the song you sang, what a wonderful tribute to a man that obviously loved not only baseball but his family and friends as well. Someday, all will be reunited in the home of Christ. Beautiful post!

Drew Hill said...

Thank you, Annie. Ross was a great coach and a very special man. We all wanted to do our best for him.