Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others.
— Philippians 2:4
Maddy was on a team for the first time. She was a very proud, very short member of the Tigers, a soccer club for first-grade girls.
They played 4-on-4. There was no score and no goalie. The games were action-packed, when the kids weren’t staring off at the clouds or kneeling to tie their shoes. Maddy loved picking out her first uniform. She wore her shinguards and socks to bed the night before the first practice. Gotta be ready!
Her coach was an orthodontist by day, and a coffee-toting, whistle-blowing comedian at soccer practices and games. His daughter was one of Maddy’s best friends. When they scored and high-fived him – well, LOW-fived, considering the height differential – their pudgy little hands smacked his giant one. It was adorable.
He made Maddy’s first sporting experience a real joy, not only because of his patient instructions, but because he was funny. For example, he was faced with the ultimate sports challenge: on his team there were three Maddys – two Madisons and our Madeleine. We loved his coaching solution: he just called them all “Fred.”
Maddy’s three older sisters came to her first game. They loved how her soccer shorts came up to her armpits and down to her knees. They loved her intensity, and how she’d beam and whoop when she made contact with the ball.
The grandmas came to the second game. They proclaimed that if cuteness counted in soccer, the Tigers would win the World Cup. They loved how every little girl found a way to help the team. The best one was when Maddy tried to kick the ball in the center of a big bunch of kids, but whiffed and fell down . . . and her fallen body blocked a shot on goal. The crowd roared. She grinned. It was her best play.
She was an intense defender. The first time the other team scored, she made two tiny fists and punched down toward the ground. You could hear her thinking, “THAT’S not going to happen again!” Whenever anybody on her team scoree, her grin was enormous, and she threw her hands up to the sky as if exhorting a stadium of thousands of fans.
Maddy never did score that first year, although she came close. Good thing it missed: it would have gone into her own goal.
But who are we kidding? She was only in it for the treats. She calls them “awesome” and “splendid,” especially the fudge brownies with sprinkles.
But team spirit definitely took root in her little heart. A few days after her first game, I took her down to Omaha’s zoo for a last outing before school started. Lingering over hot dogs at the pavilion, we saw a family with a young man in a wheelchair. He was apparently a quadriplegic.
Maddy looked at him, then turned to me and said solemnly:
“He can’t play soccer.”
Ooh. What could be worse, to her young mind? Images of her frolicking on that soccer field flashed through my mind. The darting little runs, the solid, satisfying kicks. . . .
“Well, maybe he can’t play.
“But he can still wear the shirt!”
Her eyes searched my face desperately, for affirmation.
“Of course he can,” I replied. “Any team would be lucky to have him.” She beamed.
Putting first things first! Atta girl, Maddy! She shoots! She scores! G – O – A – L !!!!!
I was humbled by her empathy and insight. She “gets it” about the teamwork and the need for belonging. That’s important to remember on teams, in families, in offices, in schools, just about everywhere people are together. Even nations. Even worlds.
You don’t have to be a star. You don’t even have to be very good. Sometimes you help your team the best just by showing up. You suit up, you listen up, and you care enough to want to be a part of the team.
It’s enough to just wear the shirt.
If one so small can understand the key to teamwork, maybe there’s hope.
Thanks, Li’l Coach. I needed that. Let’s celebrate! How about a fudge brownie with sprinkles? †
By Susan Darst Williams • www.DailySusan.com • Radiant Beams Vol. II • © 2018
BIBLE QUICKIE: Philippians 2:4 is a great verse for today’s obsession with diversity. We Americans think we are sooooo diverse. Hah! Philippi in Bible times was much more so. You can tell from Chapter 16 in Acts that Lydia was a Jewish convert to Christianity originally from Asia and a wealthy businesswoman, but there was also a native Greek slave girl, and a government jailer from Rome. In this passage, Paul is making sure to exhort everyone to guard against selfishness, prejudice or jealousy. Why? Because those things lead to dissension. Unity was, and still is, the name of the game for Christians. Showing genuine interest in others, rather than fearing them or dismissing them as unimportant, has always been Job One for believers.