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Heart Matters

Tension was high that steamy July afternoon as the preteen boys of Wigfield Dorm squared off against the boys of Long Dorm on the kickball field. Tempers had already flared several times that morning. But none of it mattered now -- we were poised for the ultimate kickball game. Long's plan was to prove who indeed was the better dorm.

Up to this point, I'd been able to pacify Billy with menial tasks such as retrieving balls and fetching water. But kickball had struck a chord with my developmentally disabled buddy that wouldn't be so easily silenced. I kept promising Billy a chance to kick in "the next inning," hoping he'd forget.

We were tied with two outs at the bottom of the last inning when Billy, tears in his eyes, reminded me of my promise. I finally gave in to my convictions; I knew that win or lose, I had to keep my word.

I called a hasty timeout. I walked to the pitcher's mound where I met Wigfield's ace pitcher, Anthony. Anthony grew up in a tough inner city. He has the unique combination of street wisdom and natural leadership -- all graced by a genuine love for Jesus and others.

For a soft drink at the snack bar after the game, Anthony promised me all my kickball woes would disappear. I agreed to his price and told Anthony he could tag Billy out on his way to first, guaranteeing a tie.

Billy was in his glory as he prepared to boot the ball out of the park. Anthony positioned himself close to home and rolled the ball ever-so-gingerly toward Billy. For most boys the ball would've been a sitting duck, but Billy kicked wildly and totally missed. Anthony moved closer to the plate and rolled the ball gently while Wigfield's catcher coached Billy on when to kick.

The moment Billy made contact with the ball, a light clicked on in the heart of every boy on the field, including the oldest one out there -- me. A light that said there's a greater purpose to be realized here than winning.

Billy's lame duck kick barely rolled the ball toward Anthony's outstretched hands. Anthony retrieved the ball, tripped, and managed to hurl the ball far over the first baseman's head.

In his excitement, Billy forgot to run. It wasn't until Wigfield's catcher took him by the hand and started pulling that Billy remembered the reason he'd kicked.

Wigfield's first baseman jogged after the ball and then threw it crazily into center field. The boys on both teams shouted, "Run to second, Billy; run to second!" Wigfield's catcher pulled Billy to second. Both teams cheered for Billy: "Run to third, run to third!"

As Billy rounded third, both teams ran the final baseline with Billy. Every boy on the field mobbed and high-fived Billy as he reached home plate. He'd scored the winning run.

This counselor had been counseled. I wiped away tears as my heart filled to overflowing with a God-given love and appreciation for the selflessness shown by those boys on that muggy July afternoon.

Yes, the soft drinks and candy flowed at the snack bar that afternoon, but it was more than the promised reward that compelled a group of ordinary boys to commit such an extraordinary act of selfless giving.

I've gleaned many lessons from that day. I learned that God works through the disabled; God is glorified through our response to them. I learned that as a leader, winning or losing isn't nearly as critical as how you model playing the game. And I learned that the Almighty Creator shows himself in any broken vessel -- even two unlikely vessels such as a disabled boy from Long and a streetwise kid from Wigfield. cm

Bob Ryan is a children's pastor in Cumberland, Maryland.

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