I fell out of love with baseball a couple of decades ago.
So helping coach my middle son’s little league baseball team wasn’t high on the list of activities I expected to induce finding myself.
“Helping coach” gives me far too much credit. Owen’s team had two exceptional coaches. Both former college athletes, Damon and Josh managed to mask the intrinsic competitive fire that allowed them to perform at that level, in order to focus on making sure the boys were staying positive, having fun, and most importantly learning about the game.
Damon and Josh certainly didn’t need my help with the baseballing, but with 11 energetic 8-year olds in the dugout at any given time, I served as an extra set of eyes, arms and legs.
We had a routine during the games. I’d hang out in the dugout, shouting out the batting order, making sure each kid had a batting helmet before trotting out to home plate, trying to keep them focused on the game and not on filling one another’s hats with dugout dirt. I’d make sure each boy knew his position before heading out to take the field.
I had a purpose, and I knew exactly what it was. I wasn’t the head coach or his assistant, I was the dugout support doing what needed to be done to keep things moving as smoothly as 11 8-year olds playing a very patient game can possibly move. Fulfilling that purpose, knowing that I had a specific job and that it was helping the team, was incredibly satisfying.
There are very few times when we know our exact purpose.
Very few times when we know what the specific expectations are. When we know why we’re here. Most of the time we’re just finding our way, fumbling along and maybe getting lucky and getting something right once in awhile.
Most of the time, we’re just wandering the base paths hoping to trip on a base.
We were in a meeting to find out the results of our youngest son’s recent testing. There were a couple of school psychologists there, along with the school corporation’s Director of Special Education. We were in a kindergarten classroom, sitting on little kindergarten chairs around a little kindergarten table. A box of kindergarten tissues in the middle of us. We were all dressed for work, the Special Ed Director in a suit. There were laptops open on the little table typically reserved for oversized yellow pencils and finger paints.
There was much explanation of test procedures and methodology. Lots of praise for what a sweet boy Gabe is and what great parents we must be. The build up, leading to the diagnosis.
They looked at me as they told us that Gabe falls on the autism spectrum. Janet would tell me later that they’d asked her previously how I would react to a diagnosis — apparently it’s the dads who typically go into denial while the moms accept what some part of them already knows and get down to the business of how to help and what to do next.
But in that moment, listening to their words, something happened. Something fell into place. An internal switch was flipped. And I felt it.
Sudden warmth, like I was being wrapped in a blanket. Gently squeezed. And there was a very quiet whisper, “This is why you’re here.”
I think it’s the only time God has talked to me.
Or maybe it’s the only time I’ve listened. In that moment, I was learning my purpose. Yes, to be the best husband I can and the best father I can be to our 2 older boys. But maybe even more so, to help raise this special child who will some day do something extraordinary.
We’ve been trusted with him because some day in some small corner of the world, he’s going to do something or be someone that makes that corner a better place.
All of that was in that whisper.
I listen for more whispers, hard.
To be reassured that we’re on the right track, that the day-to-day struggles are all part of the plan.
I tune in more.
But most of the time it just feels like wandering the base paths.
For now, purpose is enough. Maybe the purpose of it all is the search for purpose, and when you find even just a bit of it everything else starts to fall into place.
We grab the catcher’s gear and help them suit up while giving a pep talk. We trot out to first base to pat them on the back when they hustle out a ground ball. We call out the batting order. And we know, somehow, we’re fulfilling a purpose.
Maybe there will be more whispers later. For now, it’s just the 1st inning.