Thursday, November 10, 2011

Secret weapon

David B attempts to block Richard W's shot:
playing basketball in the mid-1970s.
 I hope you enjoy the guest post by my high school classmate, Pastor Don R. Keele, Jr., as much as I did. Don wrote the article in 2010, about his experience in our school years. The team captain mentioned in the article, Richard W., passed away early in November 2011 from complications related to Richard's years of drug abuse. His parents had preceded him in death, and he had no siblings or children. As Richard lay dying in the hospice facility, his friends sat with him all night, holding his hand or phoning from a thousand miles away to pray for him and tell him he was loved and not alone. Memories poured into a Facebook group, from people who remembered Richard as goofy, funny, lovable. I remember how accepting Richard was of anyone and everyone; though he joked constantly, it was never, ever, to hurt another person. Thank you, Donnie, for sharing this exceptional and inspirational message.  

© Don Keele, Jr. (use in this site by author’s permission)

I’ve always had the athletic ability of tree bark. I’m the type that can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I’ve even been known to pull over to the side of the road to honk the horn. Athletics and me just don’t mix.

I learned this early on when I realized, as I mentioned in the last chapter, that due to asthma, if I had to choose between running and breathing, I would usually chose breathing every time, which left me with little time to develop my athletic prowess. Nowhere was this truer than at recess. While I enjoyed the break from studies, I hated the pressure of recess, especially in the fourth grade.

Our teacher, Miss Lester, thought it important that all children learned to play together, so almost everyday, she would say in her unique nasally way, “Children, line up on the line.” I hated those words because I knew what was coming next. “The Line” was just on the edge of the blacktop, and it is where all teams were chosen for whatever game we would be playing that day at recess. She would then continue.

“Vance, Bobby, you be our captains today.” Vance and Bobby were always our captains, because they were the most athletic in our class. And the ritual, no matter what sport we would be playing, was always the same.

“Bobby, it’s your turn to choose first today.” Bobby would then select the next best athlete in the class, and then Vance would choose the third best while Bobby and his first pick talked over who to pick next. No matter how it started, every day it ended up the same. Everyone else would be picked, and I would still be standing on The Line, kicking at a small rock, or uneasily shifting from foot to foot until we could be past the dreaded words that I always knew were coming. It didn’t matter who had last pick, it always went something like this.

“We’ll give you two girls if you take Keele too.” “No way, we had him yesterday! It’s your turn to have him.” “Well, we don’t want him, he can’t do anything right.” “Well, it’s your turn to have him, so let’s get this game started.” “No wait, what if we gave you three girls?” At which point Miss Lester would finally intervene.

“Vance, it’s your pick and there is still one person, so Donnie, you are on Vance’s team today.” A gigantic groan would emanate from all of Vance’s teammates and someone would utter the words I least liked to hear; “Oh, great, now he’ll make us lose.”

I’m not sure how I could do that because I always thought it took a whole team to win or lose, but somehow they were convinced that I was the key to winning or losing. And since they were convinced, I rapidly became persuaded as well. I came to believe that I truly was the weak link on any team. Which is why my becoming a secret weapon on any sports team was so unusual. Fast forward to my junior year in academy.

My dad became principal of Thunderbird Adventist Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, the summer before my junior year. Dad was a competitive sportsman and a good athlete despite his large frame. Ask anyone who caught his fast-pitch softball or tried to defend against him in basketball or who stepped on the racquetball court with him. Dad had a drive to win. My younger brother, Rusty inherited that gift of athletics. I inherited other gifts, but athletics wasn’t one of them. Nonetheless, dad wanted me to get out there and try whatever sport might be going on at the time. It was time for basketball that year and dad pleaded with me to sign up to be selected for an intramural team.

“Why don’t you try it, son? Just sign up,” dad pleaded.

“Because I can’t run and breathe at the same time.” I shot back.

“Now that you have an inhaler, you can’t really use that as an excuse anymore,” dad responded. “So why don’t you sign up?”

Because I’m no good at basketball, dad, that’s why. Besides, I hate the sport. Every time I mess up, some jock gets in my face telling me what a dumb move I just made and how stupid I am for making it.”

“But this is a new school. You can make a fresh start here!” dad insisted.

“Too late for that, dad. They’ve already seen me in PE class and know that I’m as coordinated as concrete. I hate the pressure and I freeze every time someone throws me the ball. Then someone steals the ball and the rest of my team yells at me. No thanks.”

He continued to plead until finally, just to please him, I signed up. Not that I was real worried that I would actually have to play. In our school, there was an “A-league”, a “B-league” and a “C-league”. A-league players were the best in the school. They lived ate and breathed basketball. B-league guys were ok, but not outstanding. And C-league…let’s just say they were the leftovers. Even at that, my skills were so poor that if there had been a “Z-league”, I would have played in it. I knew, even if picked for a C-league team, that I would be adequately prepared to warm the bench. So I signed up just to get dad off my back.

The system for choosing teams went like this. The coach would select the best of the best to be A-league captains and they would come in the first evening and choose their teams. Then the coach would post the A-league list the next morning. The second day, he would choose the best of those not chosen the first night and they would become B-league captains. That evening, they would take the remaining list and make their selections, and the next morning the B-league list would be posted, and the same procedure would follow for C-league on the third day.

When the A-league list was posted all over campus, the jocks would all gather to see what team they were on. They would high-five each other if they found they were on the same team or start talking smack about how they were going to deep-six the other team if they found out they were on opposing teams.

I was walking past the library on my way to the Ad Building just before the first bell rang when coach put up the A-league list. The jocks swarmed it like flies on a cow-pie. It was disgusting. But it had nothing to do with me, so I decided to ignore it. I had two more days before I would have to start worrying.

“WHAT!?” one of the jocks suddenly shouted. “You’ve GOT to be kidding me! LOOK!” he said pointing to a name on the list.

“NO STINKIN’ WAY!” yelled his new teammate. “What was Richard thinking?”

They take this way too seriously, I thought. It’s only a stupid game. Reminds me of elementary school.

“Have you seen him play?” the first exclaimed, “He’ll make us lose!”

Some things never change, I concluded. They just need to grow up. Oh, well, none of my concern.

The bell rang and doors all over campus flew open as students streamed out heading for their next class. I headed around the corner to the Ad Building.

Suddenly, though my feet were still walking forward, I found myself rapidly moving backward, carried by two big jocks.

“Hey,” I started.

“Shut up, we’ve got to get to the bottom of this,” one of them said.

They turned me around and plopped me down right in front of Richard. Richard was a senior, and one of the best basketball players in school. He was about 6’5” and at that height was also one of the tallest kids in school. He always carried himself with an easy air about him, and a toothpick was always hanging out of one side of his mouth.

“Richard, what were you thinking by picking Keele for our team? Have you never seen him play? He’s horrible! He’ll make us lose?” jock one almost shouted, his face red and his veins popping out on the side of his neck.

“What?” I exclaimed as the words wormed their way into my understanding. “You picked me on your team? Why?”

“That’s what we want to know!” jock two jumped in. “What in the world were you thinking? Oh, you weren’t!” Richard just kind of grinned and chewed on his toothpick.

Jock one joined back in, “Really Richard, have you seen him play? He’s got to be the worst of the worst. Go back to coach before they pick B-league and pick up someone else. Maybe Randy. He didn’t get picked yet.”

I was starting to panic as the reality of the situation sunk in. This could be extremely humiliating, because everyone came to watch A-league games. Almost no one came to C-league games.

 “It’s true, Richard,” I said, “Randy would be a much better choice than me. I have been making teams lose for years now. I’m not your man. I really am bad! Just give me three minutes on the court and I’ll prove it to you. Get someone else while there is still time.”

“He’s making a lot of sense,” jock two said. “Listen to him Richard, before it’s too late.”

Richard deftly flicked his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other with his tongue and then said, “No gentlemen, I want him on my team. I have a plan for him. He’s going to be our secret weapon.”

“WHAT???” we all cried in unison.

“That’s right. I’ve got a plan that I think will work.”

“But Richard,” jock one started.

Richard looked at him and said, “Listen, I want him on the team and he’s going to be on the team—so either you accept that, or you can find another team.”

I swallowed hard and decided to try one more tactic. “Look Richard, what if I don’t want to be on your team. What if I don’t want to play at all? Did you ever think of that?”

“Your name was on the list,” Richard said, “which means that you wanted to play. I picked you, so you will play on my team. Now listen, all of you, before we’re late to class. Coach said that we could have the gym Sunday at 2 for just our team. I’ll tell you what I’m thinking then. Be there Sunday at 2, dressed out and ready to play ball.”

“But,” I began to protest but didn’t get any farther.

Richard turned and started walking towards his next class. “If you’re not there, Keele,” he said over his shoulder, “I will hunt you down and drag you there. So make it easy on both of us. Show up ready to play.”

Jocks one and two angrily stomped off towards their next class and I shuffled on to the Ad Building and dad’s office to lament this unfortunate turn of events. Dad was thrilled.

“Wow,” he said after hearing my story, “A-league! Now you can show them what you’ve got!”

“Yeah, dad,” I responded, “Which is absolutely nothing. I got nothing! And now the whole school will know and I’ll be the laughingstock of the entire student body.”

Sunday came and I briefly thought of skipping, but remembering Richard’s threat and knowing that he would follow through, I changed into my basketball shorts and headed over to the gym. I hated my PE clothes. I was so skinny my shorts hung on by the drawstring for dear life. They were so big around my spindly legs that I could take three steps before the shorts even started to move.

Entering the gym, I quickly slouched to one of the benches to watch my new teammates as they warmed up. There was Joe, a short but very quick outside shooter. He would be playing guard, no doubt. There was Kevin, a 6’1” senior. I had seen him play both forward and guard. Then you had “Tank”, a rather large, very enthusiastic forward. Tank was not his real name. It was actually John, but I had a bad habit of giving people private nicknames based on their characteristics. John was so enthusiastic in his play, he was often oblivious to anyone around him. He had run me over as I walked across the court one day, thus earning the nickname “Tank” in my mind. Eddie was another who could play forward or guard. Richard, of course, would play center and I guessed my position to be sub after everyone had fouled out if they were really in desperate straits.

Richard saw me on the bench and said, “Ok, we’re all here. Have a seat guys and I’ll explain my plan.”

They all sat along the bench leaving a wide margin between them and me, which was ok with me. As it turned out I wouldn’t be sitting there long anyway.

“Keele,” Richard said looking my direction, “come out here.” I got up and shuffled out towards the center of the court where Richard stood.

“Keele,” he said, “this year you are going to be our secret weapon.”

“I think you’ve got the wrong guy, Richard,” I began, but he cut me off.

“Here’s the plan,” he continued. “Everyone already knows how bad you are at basketball, and by now word is out that Richard is nuts. We’re going to use that to our advantage.” He paused. Somewhere off in the distance a cricket chirped as we all waited to hear what the plan was.

“Keele,” he went on, “I’m gonna teach you how to play basketball.”

“Coach already tried that and it hasn’t worked yet,” I said.

“I’m not finished, so just shut it,” Richard responded. Then to Joe, “Throw me the ball.”

“Keele,” he said, “we’re gonna get real basic here, so follow me. This is a basketball.”

“Yeah,” I said, “we’ve got those in C-league.”

“I said shut it,” Richard replied. “How you gonna learn anything if you’re always yappin’?” I shrugged.

“These,” he pointed to the lines surrounding the court, “are the boundary lines.” I started to let him know we had those in C-league too, but his look told me I should just keep it shut.

“Everything inside those lines is what we call inbounds,” he continued. “Everything outside, we call out-of-bounds. To score, this ball must go through that hoop. We call that ‘making a basket.’”

I stood there, somewhat embarrassed, trying to figure out the point he was trying to make with such obvious information, as my teammates just sat and snickered.

“Your first job on this team comes whenever the other team makes a basket. I want you to run over, grab the ball and take it out-of-bounds. Can you do that?”

I nodded.

“Let’s practice. Pretend this is the other team.” With that Richard shot the ball into the basket. I went over picked it up and walked out-of-bounds.

“Good,” Richard said. “Now, watcha gonna do?”

“Throw it inbounds,” I replied.
Richard W in his youth
“To who?” Richard asked.

“Whom,” I replied.

“What?” he asked. 

“The correct word to use would be whom,” I said.

“Hey,” Richard shot back, “This ain’t English class.”

“Obviously,” I responded, “or I would be doing a lot better.” 

“Look, just answer the question—Who you gonna throw it to?” Richard said.

“Somebody on my team,” I said sarcastically. This was getting old and I failed to see the point.

“Only two people on this team will you ever throw it to,” Richard instructed. “Me or Joe.” I decided to pass on the English lesson. “Now,” he said, “Let’s try that. Joe, come out here. John, come guard him.”

He shot the ball. I went and picked it up and headed out-of-bounds. “Tank” followed me. When I turned around, he was waving his arms frantically in my face trying to keep me from throwing the ball in. My view was limited to big, hairy armpits. Nasty.

“Come on, Keele,” Richard shouted, “throw it in.”

“Get this baboon with the hairy armpits out of my way and I will.” I shouted back.

“That’s the point, Keele,” Richard said, “There will always be someone trying to keep you from throwing the ball in. If that should happen, turn your body sideways, keeping the ball away from your opponent. Simply throw it one-handed way up in the air, like you’re doing a hook shot, and I’ll get it. Now try that.”

I turned sideways and launched it up over my head. It easily cleared John’s waving arms. Richard leaped into the air and snatched it.

“See,” he said, “No problem. Now watcha gonna do?”

“Come inbounds,” I replied.

“And go where?” Richard asked.

“To the other end.” I snapped.

“And do what?” he asked.

“I dunno,” I said, “Run around and around and around until somebody throws me the ball.”

“No,” Richard said. “There is only one place you will go. This little painted section in the middle we call the key. You’re going to run down and stand at the top of the key on the right hand side.”

“That’s it?” I asked. “Just stand there?”

“No,” Richard answered, “You will never just stand there. You will always have your hands up like this.” He demonstrated by bringing his hands up in front of his chest, palms out, as if ready to catch the basketball. He continued, “Then always turn to follow the ball. Keep your hands up and just follow the ball with your eyes, keeping your body facing towards wherever the ball is. If it should come to you, simply turn towards the goal and launch it up somewhere in the vicinity of the basket. I’ll be there to take care of it. Got it?”

“I think so,” I responded.

“Good, anyone else have questions?” Richards asked the rest of the team. 

“Yeah,” said Tank, “I still don’t get how this is going to work. Keele is still no good at basketball.”

“He doesn’t have to be,” Richard countered. “That’s the beauty of it. Because we are good at it, the other teams will be guarding us, but no one will guard Keele. So once we get the ball to him and he throws it towards the basket, I’ll be able to shake my guys by going up after the ball. From there it should be easy. Get it?” We all answered back with blank stares. It was obvious that no one got it.

“Ok, let’s try it.” Richard said. “I’ll show you what I mean.” Then to me, “Keele, try to get it somewhere close to the rim. That will help a whole lot. Ok…get in your places guys. Keele, hands up, follow the ball.” Richard whipped the ball to Joe who threw it to Kevin. I turned and followed the ball with my hands up in front of my chest. Kevin to Tank, Tank to Richard. Suddenly, whump, it hit my hands like a cannon ball. I went two steps backwards.

“No, Keele,” Richard called out, “once you get the ball you can’t move your feet!”

I pulled on my jersey to release my chest from the collapsed position. “Well, I wasn’t expecting it that hard,” I countered.

“Always expect it hard,” Richard said. “That way, if it is, you’re ready. And if it isn’t, you’re also ready. Ok…let’s try it again. Remember Keele, close to the rim.”

Richard to Kevin, Kevin to Joe, Joe to Tank and, whump, back in my hands. This time I turned and heaved it towards the basket. Like a flash out of nowhere, Richard came blazing past me, leaped into the air, grabbed the ball and slammed it through the hoop. I stood there with my mouth open. Whoa—that was cool! He turned and looked at the rest of us.

“Now do you get it?” he asked. We all nodded and then simultaneously broke into a spontaneous rant.

“Dude, that was awesome! Did you see that? That was so cool! There is no way to guard that! Unbelievable! Who would have thought?”

“Now do you see how Keele will be our Secret Weapon? If he can get it up in the air just like that, it should be no problem to take the lead.”

I stood there shaking at the thought of not being a loser any more. Maybe I did have hidden talents in basketball. Just be there in my spot with my hands up. Be ready. And if the ball came to me, heave it towards the basket. I could do this!

We tried the play over and over again. Sometimes I threw it flawlessly, other times, not so well. Richard developed contingency plans in case I messed up. Joe or Kevin would run in to help try and recover the ball in case things didn’t go well. We kept at it until I was getting pretty consistent—and very tired. Some of the guys were running over to the water fountain. Richard called for a break. I slumped to a bench on the side of the gym. Richard came over.

“Good work, Keele! Now we just need to teach you how to play defense,” Richard’s words sent virtual cramps through my tired body.

“What do I have to do there?” I asked.

“Just run around and around and around till somebody throws you the ball,” Richard grinned.

“Yeah, right!” I said, as I smiled for the first time that day.

“Actually,” he said, “That’s not far from the truth. I just want you to follow the ball. Get in the face and yell at whoever has it. Try to freak them into making a mistake. If they don’t know it’s coming, it can cause a turnover. We’re going to try it on they guys in a minute. Are you game?”

“Just run to whoever has the ball and yell? That’s it?” I asked.

“Well, that and wave your hands in front of them as you yell.” Richard said. “Ok, here’s the deal. You and me and Eddie are going to take on Joe, John and Kevin in a little scrimmage game. You just try that defense. If we get the ball, just run back to your spot and get your hands up.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’ll try, but can we play half-court? I can’t keep running this way.” Richard grinned and nodded.

We started into the scrimmage game and the ball went to Tank. I ran over and yelled loudly, “WOOOOOOOW!” Tank jumped back and Richard stole the ball, going in for an easy lay-up.

“What was that about?” John yelled looking in my direction.

“That,” Richard said, “was exactly what I wanted him to do. And if it worked on you, it will work on a lot of guys.” He looked my direction and gave me a thumbs-up.

Richard threw the ball to John. “So, you guys ready to take on our secret weapon?”

We practiced until I couldn’t yell, or for that matter, move any more. I dragged myself home for a shower, exhausted, but feeling it might not be so bad after all.

Our first game came a few days later. The gym was packed to watch the A-league guys play. They made a big deal of calling the starting five from each team. You know the drill. “And starting at forward, and a big senior, is Kevvvvvvvvvinnnnnnnn.” Every one cheered as Kevin ran out. “In the other forward position, another senior, heeeeerrrrrrreeesssss Johnny!!!!” The crowd again cheered as Tank trotted out and high-fived Kevin. “Playing guard, he’s short, but he’s fast as lightning, please welcome, junior Joooooooooeeeeeee!” The crowd went nuts as Joe ran out with both hands up and high-fived both Kevin and John. “And in the other guard position, also a junior, for the first time in A-league—heeeeerrrrrrrreeeessss Donnie!” The crowd went totally silent as I took the first three steps to get my shorts moving. Somewhere off in the distance a dog barked. Then suddenly, I heard it—small a first, but building in intensity. A snicker, then a short laugh, and before I knew it, the whole gym erupted into laughter.

All of my loser feelings swiftly returned. Maybe I didn’t belong on the court. I was about ready to bolt for the door in shame when I heard something else. A single clap. Then another one, quickly followed by a third. One person was clapping! I looked around and spotted my dad standing in the corner of the gymnasium, clapping for me!

Tank high-fived me and whispered, “Don’t worry about it man, they don’t know you’re our secret weapon. We’ll call you SW for short. Just stay undercover for a little while longer.” Instantly I felt better.

And immediately, when the rest of the students heard their principal (my dad) clapping, the laughing died away. The announcer continued.

“He’s the captain of the team, he’s a senior, playing center, let’s hear it for Riiiiiiiccchhhhhharrrrrddd!” The crowd abruptly went wild again as Richard trotted out and high-fived the rest of us.

After the other team was announced, we went out to line up for the jump ball. We had never covered the jump ball in any of our practice sessions, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I stood out a little bit away from everyone else. No one came close to me either.

The whistle sounded, Richard out-jumped his opponent and drilled the ball straight to me. I had my hands up and caught it, but now what? Like a flash, Joe came right past me, snatching the ball and running straight towards the basket for an easy lay-up. Cool.

“Defense, Keele!” Richard yelled. “Let it go, boy!”

I ran down to the other end of the court and spotted the ball. Running full-bore towards the guy I shrieked, “YAAAAAAAAA!” as I lunged in waving my hands frantically. He jumped back, startled, and tried to get a pass off. Tank was all over it and Joe was already running down-court. We were up by 4 in the first minute of the game.

They threw the ball in and brought it down. I was all over my defensive game! “Yaaaa! Wooooow, HAAAAAY! “WatchOUT!” I was having a great time waving my arms and yelling. Suddenly, we had the ball and everyone was running down-court.

“Get in your spot, Keele!” Richard yelled. I ran to the top of the key and had my hands up just turning and following the ball. I began to feel like a real dufus when people started pointing and laughing, but I kept my hands up. Whump. I turned and launched it towards the goal. Perfect throw! Richard was on it in a flash and quickly slammed it through the hoop.

The loudspeakers came to life as the voice of the announcer tried to drown out the roaring crowd. “Two-points, Richard! Assist, Keele!”

I looked and my dad was going nuts! Clapping for all he was worth. “Get down here, Keele!” Richard yelled. Oh, yeah! I plunged into the melee. “YAAAA! Woohooo, HAAAAAY! “WATCHit!” I was like a hard-core squirrel on caffeine. It was the most fun I’d ever had on a basketball court.

At the end of the game, we were up by 16 points and I had 12 assists behind my name. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually on a team that WON! And I had, beyond doubt, contributed to the win! That was the first of many wins. As a matter of fact, we went undefeated the entire season.

To be sure, the other teams caught on to our strategy. I began to be heavily guarded. “Don’t let Keele get that ball in the air!” other captains would caution their guards. So Richard showed me a few other moves. A head fake and toss out to Joe. A bounce pass under the jumping blocker to Tank. An around-the-back dump-off to Kevin. A hand-off to Eddie. Always, I was in my spot. Always with my hands up, ready to get the pass.

And in the championship game, with three minutes remaining in the game, I had a slow-motion moment. We were going against Ron’s team. Ron was about equal in skill to Richard, and this particular game was hard fought. Someone on his team answered every basket we made. The game was tied. Adrenaline was running high. I was in my spot and I was open. Suddenly the ball was in my hands and I turned and launched it towards the basket. That’s when things went into slow-motion.

Up, up, up went the ball. Ron and Richard both went up at the same time to try and gain control of the ball. It continued going up, right over both of their outstretched hands. They waved, arms colliding. Beads of sweat went flying, glistening under the mercury lights. Still the ball was on its’ upward arch. They swung again and missed, as it reached the apex, and then all three started their slow-motion descent together: Ron, Richard and the ball, with a perfect slow-motion backspin. I stood there in my spot, watching it all unfold slowly before my eyes. As Ron and Richard hit the floor, the ball swished through the basket, nothing but net. It went IN! I couldn’t believe it! It actually went IN!

Somewhere in the distance I heard the announcer say, “Two points, KEELE!” My dad went absolutely nuts, jumping and yelling, “Way to go son! Good one!” I stood rooted to my spot, soaking it all in until Richard’s voice jerked me back into reality.

“Get down here, Keele! We need you!” I sprinted down the court and went into the fray like a shark on a feeding frenzy. “YO! HAY! WATCHIT! LOOKOUT! YAAAAAHHOOOOOO!” I was all over the place! We got the turnover and Joe was down-court in a flash. Tank to Eddie. Eddie to Joe. Joe in for the lay-up. We were up by two. They were back down-court and working it. Ron drove the basket and we were tied again.

Back and forth it went. Final ten seconds. We had possession and we were down by one because of a free throw. I was in my spot. Hands up. Turning and facing the ball at all times. Richard to Tank. Tank to Joe. Joe to Kevin. Kevin to me. I turned and started to launch, but two guys came out of nowhere to block it. I switched up and bounced it under them as Richard came zipping by on his way to the hoop. He took the pass and drove for the goal, with Ron guarding closely. Releasing the ball, it went up, hit the backboard and dropped through the hoop just as the buzzer sounded.

The whole place went nuts. Suddenly I found myself on the shoulders of my teammates as they chanted “SW, SW, SW!” My dad was pounding me on the back, yelling, “Way to go, son! Good job!”

Wow, from the loser’s bench to the winner’s circle. I had never been there before. It was an unbelievable feeling. I reveled in the glow as I went home that night. But I also felt a lot of gratitude for what Richard had done for me.

  For some reason Richard had chosen me, a major loser, to be on his team. I think it was because he secretly wanted to date my sister (which didn’t work). But he took a chance nonetheless. Even though I was a loser, he picked me to be on his team of winners.

And even though I had been the one they picked up off the floor and bounced around, I knew full well that I couldn’t really play basketball. I had only done what Richard had taught me. He taught me how to stand at the top of the key and how to throw the ball up in the air. He taught me a head fake and a bounce pass and how to act like an idiot on defense, but if the truth were to be told, I’m still no good on a basketball court. I still can’t play the game. But that didn’t matter to Richard. What mattered was that I did what he asked.

My job was to be in my spot and be willing. I needed to have my hands open and ready to catch whatever was thrown. I needed to keep my eye on Richard and not worry about what everyone else was screaming at me. And when the ball came to me, I was to just heave it towards the basket and let him take care of the rest. Which brings me to you and your spiritual growth.

You may think that you are no good at this spiritual walk thing. You may still be stunned that for some reason, God chose you to play on his team. He knows that you may not be the best at playing. He knows that the spiritual walk is hard. He knows that you don’t feel adequate- but for some reason, He picked you. Look at what the Apostle John wrote.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit --fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

He isn’t asking that you have it all together. He isn’t asking that you be the star player of the team. Just be in your spot and be willing to serve. Keep your heart open for whatever Jesus decides to throw at you. Jesus has rarely picked the most adequate or the most competent. But He has always used the most willing. Remember, it’s not based on how bad you are, but rather on how good He is. Just be in your spot, with your hands up, ready to do what He asks of you. Throw it up there, and He’ll take care of the rest.

Philippians 1:6 “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”

It’s His job to take you from a spiritual loser to a spiritual winner, and He wants to finish that work in your life. Allow Him to do that work and simply do what He asks you to do.

What’s He asking you to do? God wants you to be in your spot with your hands up and He wants you to put your heart and soul into it. Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'

Question: How well have you been playing the game? Have you been pleading to get off of the team? Have you tried to stay on the bench? There is no excuse a Christian can stand on for not fulfilling the Gospel commission. It’s a command of Jesus, not a suggestion. And with every command comes a promise. Check this out.
 2 Pet. 1:3,4 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Did you catch that? His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. He’s already given you everything you need to be in the game. So get in there and get your hands up!

And you’ll find, if you’re faithful, that when the final game is played, and the final buzzer sounds, you’ll be hoisted up onto the shoulders of angels and carried past God the Father and there you will find Him applauding, saying “Way to go, son! Way to go daughter! I’m so proud of you! Not because you’re the best basketball player out there, but because you’re my child, and you learned to trust me and you learned to trust my Son, Jesus, and together, we’ve made you a winning secret weapon in this whole Great Controversy.”

Guest author Don R. Keele, Jr. with Christy
at high school reunion in the gymnasium where
Don became the Secret Weapon.
So don’t take yourself out of the game. Don’t sit and whine that there are others better or more qualified than you. Don’t excuse yourself because you aren’t having fun or the work is hard. Stay in there and play. Hold on a little longer, because someday soon—it won’t be long now—it’s going to all be worth it. Hey, life is short, play hard! 

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