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The Gift ...

Have you ever felt embarrassed in front of a crowd? Does the idea of everyone watching make you anxious? For me, being alone in a stressful situation is about the worst thing to go through. Feeling the stares of a crowd watching my every move seems to slow down time and take control over every part of my body. How about you? Do you know the terror of being alone, especially in a crowd?

Spending most of my life on the outside looking in always made me feel inadequate. Everyone around me seemed to have a great life, full of fun, love, and friends. It always made me wonder, “What do they have that eludes me?” Over time, some became good friends of mine. To my surprise, they would tell me how they felt just as inadequate as me. How could that be? In my eyes they were living the perfect life.

My Perfect Friends

So many of my “perfect” friends relayed stories of having anxiety and doubt in their lives, often detailing experiences that would have devastated me. Still, they beamed with confidence, clarity, and assurance. It took me a long time to understand their “secret sauce.” In one word, it was “Encouragement.” They had people in their lives that not only loved them, but throughout their lives would consistently praise, encourage, and support them.

Even as kids, it was easy to see encouragement all around them, from the sports trophies on the bedroom shelves, the certificates of accomplishment hanging on their walls alongside the loving faces in pictures of the latest school concert or play. All tangible reminders of encouragement and love. Like the cliché says, someone “had their back.” Was it really that simple? Could the knowledge that someone cared truly foster confidence?

Growing up, my family was fragmented by the ravages of alcoholism. For those who have experienced living in that world, you know the isolation and shame it brings. As a kid not knowing much about anything, it seemed to be normal that my parents weren’t at my school events. They always seemed to have a good excuse. My dad traveled extensively, and my mom’s drinking took over her life. While my mom did a stint as our Cub Scout leader, she would rarely leave home. So, Cub Scout award ceremonies were few and far between. My bedroom shelves were barren of trophies and awards, except for that one golden statue from the year we won the Little League Championship. My one “claim to fame.”

My Favorite Coach

That year, my dad found time to coach our team. It is one of my fondest memories. Even though most of the season is a blur, lost in the brain of a nine-year-old boy, the last moments of our Championship game are as clear to me now as the day it happened.

Like all great baseball stories … it was the bottom of the ninth and the other team had just scored what could’ve been the winning run. We were at bat with our best hitter up first and me on deck. As he had done all year, the lead batter hit the first ball thrown for a double. Now it was up to me. Talk about fear and anxiety with everyone watching!

Walking up to the plate and mimicking all the Mickey Mantle moves, knocking the dust off my shoes with the bat just like Mickey. Standing at the plate trying to stop my hands from shaking and my knees from wobbling as the pitcher began his warmup. Then, my dad’s bellowing voice stopped everything with a loud,

“Time Out!”

My dad always had a flair for drama, and this time was no exception. Walking up to home plate with a grin that told me this was a tease, he asked, “How’s it going Willy?” (My middle name is William and Dad always called me Willy when he was being affectionate) He went on to ask what my plan was while acting extremely serious, even though the grin never left his eyes. He then asked me to take a shot at bunting instead of hitting the ball. “The pitcher is just as shook up as you are. He knows the game is on the line. He is not expecting a bunt.”

Patting me on the back, he reassured me that he had confidence in me, and it couldn’t be any better than to have me at the plate. Ending our talk with a quiet “well-that-should-shake-up-the-pitcher” wink and a smile, he headed back to the dugout.

You probably have already guessed what happened. The bunt worked and the pitcher flubbed the ball, hastily trying to throw me out at second base, the ball sailed all the way out to the centerfield fence. Rounding third base and knowing we would win with my score the excitement was incredible!

Then, there he was, my dad, standing on the other side of home plate with a huge smile and arms ready to catch me. Bouncing off home plate and into his arms is one of my best memories. Both of us crying, his words still ring in my ear … “I knew you could do it, Willy!”

It was his encouragement and love that carried me through my fear that day. Knowing my dad believed in me was my “secret sauce.”

The Saddest Day

As the years passed and my family crumbled, that feeling of someone in my corner went away. That is, until shortly after my dad passed away at the age of forty-three.

Swamped in sadness over losing my dad led me to my knees in prayer. That is when my best friend, Christ Jesus, put His arm around me and let me know He was always in my corner. From that day forward, my life has been filled with confidence and comfort.

Now, every time my thoughts go back to that baseball field in July, my feelings explode with the joy of knowing that, like my father, God’s arms are wrapped around me while His still, quiet voice whispers, I know you can do it!”

Love People Gratefully by Encouraging Them to Be Everything God Made Them to Be!

Stand Firm!

My dear friends, stand firm and don’t be shaken.

Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile.

- 1 Corinthians 15:58 CEV

Above All else …

Love God FIRST!

Love Others LOUDLY!

© 2023 Mark McCuen, LOL-Ministries, LLC – All Rights Reserved This story appeared in God’s Good News Gazette and is used with permission.

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