Growing up, I played a lot of softball. We were at the community field most nights of the week for practice or games. My dad was a firm believer in keeping his kids active in sports to learn teamwork, self-discipline, and to generally “stay out of trouble.” He played a lot of baseball in his younger years, so he was happy to coach our teams. I played from the time I was seven until I was a junior in high school, mostly pitcher and third base.
Dad and I – 1983
Dad said I had a natural talent, though I was not naturally competitive. It would frustrate him to no end when I wouldn’t push myself harder, and I often left the field or the back yard crying because I just didn’t want it as much as he did. What I wanted more was to please him, to make him proud of me.
One of my earliest memories was when I learned to play catch, to confidently grab the ball with my glove as my 6 foot 3 inch tall father hurled it at me with his huge hands.
“Jenn, don’t be afraid of the ball! Quit moving away…” He walked over, tapped the ball on my head, then on his own head, saying, “See, it can’t hurt you.”
My first softball team – 7 years old
“Yes it CAN!” I thought in logical disbelief. But what Dad was trying to teach me was that I was in more control than I knew. I had a glove. My eyes could see where the ball was coming from. I could move my arms to protect myself from getting hit, and even if I did, just shake it off and move on. I grew up to play some of the best teams in the community league, made the varsity team in high school, and in the off season played on winter ball teams to learn more skills and techniques in teamwork and mobility. Dad was there the whole time.
Dad Believed In Me
Dad pushed me to do my best because he saw the natural drive in me to succeed. I wanted to learn to do things well, if only for the sake of doing it, not necessarily to beat the other team. I played for him, because I loved to spend time with him, and at such a young and impressionable age, I didn’t know how to say that softball wasn’t a passion, it was just something I did well.
Even though my sports career didn’t continue past high school, the memory of my Dad fighting for me to succeed was still inside of me. His voice followed me into college when subjects were difficult or I had to navigate tough professors and new responsibilities. My “big girl” status began long before, in the back yard… with my Daddy.
He believed in me, when I didn’t understand how that practice and perseverance would pay off. He saw how strong and confident this sport would make me if I just gave it my all. I wanted to try harder, for him. Not so much to hear “good job” but because of the man he was. I just loved to be with my Daddy.
The Most Important Thing
Dad gave me something much more important than a good baseball swing. He modeled an example of a spiritual leader. He trusted God with his whole heart to lead his family in righteousness and integrity. I saw him reading his Bible almost every morning before work and he prayed with me and my sister almost every night before bed. I witnessed the sweet and gracious way he dealt with people who were rude or wronged him – how he talked about others who were not making good decisions in an empathetic way, always trying to see the other side of things and give them the benefit of the doubt.
He taught us to trust our Father in heaven, to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) and stand firm against the powers of darkness in this world. I had that picture in my mind whenever I took the field; that “ready” stance I had before the ball was hit and coming fast toward me. I had to root my feet in the ground, bend my knees and be ready for whatever came, knowing exactly what to do with the ball when I got it.
In the same way, Dad taught us how to be rooted in the love and knowledge of God. He read and spoke scripture to us, He had us in church every Sunday morning, sang worship songs with us in the car, on vacations, and encouraged us to trust and obey the Lord. I learned that when those “flaming arrows” came my way (Ephesians 6:16), I knew exactly Who to put my faith in. Those arrows couldn’t hurt me because my Daddy in heaven was there for me the whole time.
What a Difference a Daddy Makes
The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). Dad didn’t have to tell me that trusting my life to the God who created me was a good idea. His life told me every day that the Lord cared for me, believed in me, pushed me to do better, gave me the tools to succeed, and fight to overcome the insecurities that want to hurt me. I could see with my own eyes that his own choices, as a man who trusted God with all his heart, reflected the heart of a Father who was and is eternally good to us. The result is immeasurable blessing, joy, security, and peace. That’s what my Daddy gave to me.
Papa and Chloe
I recently taught my seven year old daughter to play catch with the new pink glove she got for Christmas. My Daddy got it for her. He’s her “Papa” and she can’t wait to see him this summer when we fly to California and go camping. I began to practice with her on the baseball field in our town, and she learned quickly. Once in a while, the ball will come at her fast and she moves her glove away and flinches.
The first time she did that, I walked over to her almost instinctively and said, “Baby girl, don’t move away from it. That’s what your glove is for. You’re bigger than this ball!” I tapped the ball on her head, then on mine. “See, it can’t hurt you.”
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome [the evil spirits of this world]; because greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4