All Star Special part 3 – Thankful for Many Blessings – Carlos Beltran – New York Yankees

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Yankees All-Star Outfielder Carlos Beltran

Mlb-asg-2016.svgTonight in San Diego, the All-Star game is the main attraction for baseball fans. It also gives me the opportunity to share the story of a guy that I have been considering writing about for many years. With the All-Star game in focus and Yankees Outfielder Carlos Beltran selected to appear in his ninth MidSummer Classic, the pieces have finally aligned.

Beltran came to professional baseball as a second round pick by the Kansas City Royals in 1995. His nine All-Star games show the consistency that he has played with as a pro. Since his debut in September 1998, Beltran has also won 3 Gold Gloves awards, 2 Silver Sluggers, a Rookie of the Year award, over 2000 career hits, and he is the first switch-hitter in baseball history to hit 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in his career.

Off the field, he has looked for opportunities to encourage young players in their desire to improve baseball skills. He has started the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy.

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Beltran has been selected to appear in his 9th All- Star Game

His resume is very impressive. Unfortunately, sometimes that is where the players we watch in sports tend to stay – defined by their abilities and accomplishments on the field. But like all of us, they face the same questions that we all do about the purpose of life and how to deal with the hard things that come your way.  In fact, when he was with Kansas City, the search for purpose and how to fill the emptiness that he felt in his life led him and his wife to a friend’s Bible study.  As you can read in this article from CBN, Beltran accepted Christ as his savior at the Bible Study. He says “We’re all human beings, born with a little defect, and that little defect is the hole in your heart that can’t be filled by anything except Christ. I was in Kansas City, and everything was good with me and my wife. But something was missing; that was Christ.”

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Beltran, the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 1999. He is the first switch hitter in history to collect 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.

He continues, saying “He changed me, and He continues to change me,” he says, “because He wants me to be an example for others. I pray every night to God to use me to reach people.”

And a couple years ago, that faith in God would prove vital as he and his family went through the challenge of coping with the loss of an unborn child. All the accolades and successes in baseball can’t prepare you for a loss like that.

You can read the story in this article from breathcast.com. He says “Life took away the blessing of having my first boy. I believe in God and I am thankful for all his many blessings, like my beautiful family, friends, fans and my career.”  This of course both broke my heart and drew me to him by the similarities of our stories which I wrote about my story a month or so ago in a post about Joba Chamberlain.  It is stories like this that remind me that as much as we are tempted to put hero status on these professional athletes, they are simply human beings struggling through life and living out their story just like we are.

Here are my takeaways from Beltran’s story:

Aug 11, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran (36) celebrates his solo home run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Beltran is quick to give credit and thanks to God for the blessings in his life – even in hard times.

1- Remember to be Thankful – I attended a leadership conference a few years ago and one of the speakers at the conference said in leadership, we (people in general) are never at risk of being over-thankful. This statement has altered my actions and thought processes as a leader. I hear those words echoing in my mind whenever I have a staff meeting or evaluation to do. Even when I do an assessment of the program I direct and what makes it work I am reminded of these words and I strive to be vocal with my gratitude so that those that I have been placed in leadership over will know that I appreciate them and that they are vital to the successful operation of the program. But I will confess that it is still a work in progress.  Sometimes, the things that need to get done or the changes that need to happen take over and gratitude slips a little. It is even more true when it comes to the gratitude that I owe God for saving my life and presenting me with so much. It is way too rare that I say thanks to God and take time to recognize and acknowledge the difference that his presence makes in my life. Beltran’s words in the face of the pain and grief that he felt with the loss of their baby amaze and challenge me. He took that time to thank God for the life he has and the blessings that he sees. May we all keep our eyes focused so strongly on God so that we can see the way that His presence in our life changes us for the better. May we, like Job, find praise for God on our lips even when facing our hardest challenges because one day with God is better than any number of days without Him.

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Beltran is one of the greatest post-season hitters in history. But there is so much more to his life and story than numbers. God is at work! He is in your life too. Let Him be what defines you!

2- What defines you? – This challenge goes along with the previous takeaway. It is easy to look at Carlos Beltran and all that he has accomplished and think that it must be great to be him. We can consider his Hall-of-Fame worthiness and the role that he has played on many successful teams. We can look at his amazing post-season career. Although he has never been on a Championship team, he is one of the best post-season baseball players in history statistically speaking (.332 batting average in 52 games 16 home runs, 40 RBI). But Beltran himself said it in the CBN article. He had a “pretty good” life, marriage, career, etc. but something was missing. Only Jesus could fill the void in his heart. The same is true for you and me, too. All that we try to turn to to give our lives meaning will fail us and fall short.  Only Christ truly satisfies.

 

All-Star Special – Planning and Flexibility – Matt Wieters – Baltimore Orioles

Mlb-asg-2016.svgAs the All-Star game in San Diego approaches, we are taking a look at the stories of a few players who will likely appear in the game whose faith in God play an important role in their career and life.  The second installment in this mini-series is focused on Orioles Catcher Matt Wieters.

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Orioles All-Star Catcher Matt Wieters

Wieters was drafted #5 overall in the 2007 entry draft. He made his major league debut on May 29, 2009. He was the Orioles primary catcher for his first 5 seasons, before a torn The switch-hitting catcher is a 4 time All-Star, 2 time Gold Glove winner and even has a web-site of “facts” about his amazing life (a la Chuck Norris jokes).  He has been selected to the All-Star team this year on the strength of a .270 batting average, a .761 OPS and near flawless fielding (.991).  A couple years ago, Wieters was voted to start the All-Star game but was unable to play because of an injury. He had only played in 26 games that season, but was playing some of the best baseball of his career. But it was an elbow injury that had taken him out, and would keep him out of baseball for almost a full year. Check out this video from TheIncrease.com where he talks about being a planner by nature and preparing well for what may come, but that sometimes things don’t go as we plan.

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Wieters (with arm in brace) was voted into the All-Star game in 2014. He attended the festivities with his wife and son

My Takeaways from Wieters Story:

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Wieters is the stuff of legends according a web site

1- Planning and Flexibility – These two words would seem to oppose each other a little. When you make a plan, you want to stick to the plan. Wieters says “This life was not meant for us to control it. You’ve got to be able to just say, ‘Whatever Your will is, God… I’ve done what I feel like I need to do to be prepared; would you walk with me the rest of the way?’”  My father-in-law is a youth pastor. He shares three rules that he has for groups he takes on mission trips 1 – be flexible, 2- be very flexible, 3 – be very VERY flexible. When we think we are in control or our plan is the only way, we  tend to learn pretty quickly that we are not correct in that thinking. The Wieters video at one point had these words appear across the screen. “We all live with the illusion that we have the power to control the results”.  This is so true.  It should be obvious to all of us that we are not in control, and maybe at some level it is, but we still try to wrestle whatever control we can from every part of life. We look for the checklist of things to do so that our plan works out and comes to be.  But if our “plan” is anything more than “follow God and trust His results” it will fail.  The best plan we can make is to follow God in everything, to put him first in our life and then trust Him to lead us on the path that He has designed for us to follow. Matthew 6.33 says “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Is your plan flexible enough to change when things don’t go the way you envision?  Do you trust God and His plan?

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Wieters has been part of a resurgent Orioles team that has back in the playoff picture in recent years

2- Undeserved -Wieters planned, he prepared, he worked hard and then baseball was out of the picture for a while. But in that, he saw God at work, connecting him to his wife and son in a way he hadn’t experienced before. He also talks about the humbling experience of being voted in as a starter to the All-Star game. I’ve written posts about how we notice God’s presence in new ways when something else we have been depending on is removed from our life, at least for a while.  Sometimes, we find ourselves asking what we’ve done to deserve this hardship.  The truth is that God does give us something undeserved. It is his unending love and limitless grace. We are sinful and rebellious against God but instead of getting the punishment we deserve, we are given a life of purpose now and a future in God’s presence that will be even more amazing than a baseball All-Star weekend (and it will last longer, too).

You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” —Psalm 16:11

 

All- Star Special Part 1 – My Main Focus – Jackie Bradley Jr. – Boston Red Sox

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Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr

Mlb-asg-2016.svg Yesterday, the rosters for the The Major League All-Star game that will be played next Tuesday night in San Diego, California were announced. Over the next week, I am going to share the stories of some of this year’s All-Stars and the role faith plays in their lives.

We will start with Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He was drafted by the Sox at the end of the first round in the 2011 draft. He made his debut with the team on Opening Day in 2013 against the Yankees and would spend time bouncing between the majors and minors. He would spend most of 2014 with the Big League and started 2015 too, before a demotion sent him back to the minors again. This year, he turned the heads of the baseball world with a 29 game hitting streak. He has already set career bests this season in most offensive categories.

Before each AB, Bradley pays tribute to a dear friend and to his grandmother

And on Tuesday night, before he steps into the batter’s box for the first time in his All-Star career, Bradley will use his bat to draw 2 “m”s in the dirt like he does each time he steps into a batter’s box. As you can read in this story from Iamsecond.com, it is a tribute to 2 people that were very important to him that have passed away.  The perspective that he has gained from these serious life events help him remember that his main focus needs to be on Jesus.  He says “It’s not just about the game. It’s about living what you’re preaching. You’re going to make mistakes, but as long as God is your main focus more often than not you’re going to make the right decision.” In this article from ESPN.com, you can read about his mother’s reaction upon finding out that her son had made the Red Sox and would make his debut on opening day. She was excited to see him achieve this dream, but also knew that it had come as part of a long process. She says “I told them (congregation at church) how the road wasn’t easy, but to have faith in God and apply it to your life, and recognize that it is a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight.” She was talking about Jackie’s Big League promotion, but it is a sentiment that fits all of our lives, too.

My takeaways from Bradley’s story:

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Bradley has been known for his defense, but this season, his bat is catching up

1- Main Focus – Through the somber tragedies that Bradley has known, he shares that he strives to keep Jesus as the main focus. This is a challenge for us to do because there are so many ways that the enemy can distract us from focusing on Jesus. He tries to point out any successes that we may have (like being an All-Star) and uses it to try and have us focus on ourselves and how great we are. And almost simultaneously, he whispers in our other ear about all the terrible things that we have done and how we are not worth anything to anyone. And again, he tries to get us to focus on our situation or circumstance – but in reality the focus is again on ourselves. He can attempt to distract us in a variety of ways. but Hebrews 12 2-3 reminds us to focus on Jesus. It says  “We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Now he holds the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.”  How do we keep Jesus the main focus? By remembering what He has done! He endured our punishment on the cross and suffered through the disgrace so we could avoid it. Our disgrace is covered by His amazing grace. Let THAT be our main focus

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Bradley’s twitter bio is a great motto for us all to have : Forever I Give Him Thanks

2- F.I.G.H.T. – The last line of the Iamsecond article quotes Bradley saying the struggle is only temporary. That struggle is what those verses in Hebrews describe. Our struggle to follow God when all the distractions try to draw us away. But if we chose to surrender our life to God, then we can rest assured that He is victorious and defeats his (and our) enemy once and for all. Then we will be with Him in a world without struggle and that will last for eternity. So for now, there is a struggle, but as mentioned in the above point, our weapon in the struggle is putting God first and focussing on Him.  Bradley’s twitter page bio is an acronym. It reads “F.I.G.H.T. (Forever I Give Him Thanks).  That is keeping the focus on Jesus. That is battling the enemy. The best fight we have against the attacks of Satan is to give thanks to God at all times. Acknowledge Him and the things He is doing in your life! That will keep your focus on Christ.

 

More than We Can Imagine – Roberto Osuna – Toronto Blue Jays

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Blue Jays Closer Roberto Osuna – the first player in the majors born in 1995

I have always been a huge sports fan. My mother tells the story of how early on in my life, even before the age of 10, I could be found in the fellowship time at Brunswick Street Baptist Church talking to men much older than me about whatever was happening in the sporting world at the time. I have always enjoyed talking about sports and sharing my opinions about anything sporty. It is a part of why I started this blog in the first place. These days, my parents share stories of my niece Asta aged almost 6 is a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan. She lives in Toronto and frequently goes to watch her team play. I’ve never talked sports with her, but in an effort to encourage her in her fandom, I write this blog post about a member of her favorite team – Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna. And I post this story about a Toronto Blue Jay on Canada Day – Happy 149th birthday to my home and native land.

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Osuna with a Strikeout during last season’s playoff run. 97 MPH fastball not bad for a 20 year old.

And Osuna is amazing in that at age 21, he has already appeared in over 100 Major League games. This amazing feat is made more amazing because in 2013, he tore his ulnar collateral ligament and required Tommy John surgery, which generally requires a year to recover. Read about that injury in this story from sportsnet.ca. Osuna was out of baseball for 14 months, but what a recovery he made! He returned to ball, playing in the rookie leagues and then at A ball. He won a spot on the Blue Jays the following season and would finish 4th in the American League Rookie of the Year vote last season. It has been a wild ride for Osuna who as you can read in this story from CTVnews.ca,  dropped out of school at age 12 to help provide for his family.

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Osuna showing one of several tattoos that demonstrate the importance faith in Jesus plays in his life.

He would work long days in the field with his father – also a professional baseball player in Mexico who played for over 20 years.  In the evenings, they would practice baseball.  As you can read in this article from thestar.com Osuna credits his success on his faith in God.  He says “People look at me weird when I talk about God,” added Osuna, whose arms bear tattoos stating “God believes in me,” and “all I can do in Christ. I don’t think I deserve anything. But I try to do the best I can, get ready each day and be ready inside the stadium and outside too. I know where I came from and I know where I want to go.

Here are my takeaways from Osuna’s story:

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Osuna gives credit for his career to God and the role that faith plays in his life.

1- Long days and great lessons from dad – There is a great lesson in this part of the story. He dropped out of school to help provide for his family. In doing so, he worked long hot days  along side his father, a former professional baseball player himself. When their days in the fields were done, the lessons on baseball began, but the lessons stretched far beyond baseball instruction. There were lessons on responsibility, work ethic, and growing up that contribute to Osuna’s career as well. Thinking about this helps me realize that there are lessons in each step in our journey, each chapter of our story. Some lessons we learn intentionally (like how to throw a baseball) some we learn from example (caring for others, working hard with all our heart). I’ve learned many lessons from my father who was a great example of serving others and finding solutions to problems as they arise. Father’s Day passed not long ago and so I write this as a tribute to my own father. He spent a lot of time teaching me about life and about helping others. Thank you Dad, for the role model that you have been. As a father, I want to pass these lessons along to my girls, too. The time spent between a father and his children goes a long way to help those children discover the important things in life.

2- More than we can imagine – There are parts of Osuna’s story that are not common in many major league stories. He has Never played in AA or AAA ball. He arrived in the majors at age 20. He became the closer at such a young age, all despite going through significant elbow surgery.  But in this article from the Globe and Mail, we also read again the importance that faith in God plays in Osuna’s life.  Lorna Dueck, in her article shares a tweet seen on Osuna’s twitter page, which frequently references his faith in God. And while I couldn’t find the actual tweet written in Spanish, but she translated it.   “When we pray, God hears more than we say, he answers more than we ask, he gives us more than we imagine…” Those words really get me because I have seen it as true in my life. So often, when I ask him for something, His answer is so much more than I ever asked for or imagined.

Friends, the past couple of years for the Page family have been filled with deeper heartache than I have ever known, more hurt and pain than I have ever experienced and a deeper awareness that God has a real enemy that seeks to destroy us. But in the midst of all the challenges and hurts that life has brought, God has shown up in real tangible ways. In every attack, He presents an amazing encouragement. In every hurt, there is joy and comfort beyond belief and for every heartache, there is real joy of knowing He is with me and peace that exceeds my understanding. He has an amazing story for all of us. And in walking out your story, look for Him, He is there in the midst, working things out for the best.

 

The Same, Just Different – Joba Chamberlain – Cleveland Indians

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Indians Relief Pitcher Joba Chamberlain

I have spent some time in these posts talking about tattoos. These have been in reference of some Christian athletes who have used tattoos to display their faith and part of their story. You can read my posts on Brandon Barnes, Michael Lorenzen and Barry Zito by clicking on their names and also check out this post by Jeremy Affeldt on his blog about his first tattoo and the meaning behind it. Now let’s add Cleveland Indians reliever Joba Chamberlain to this list. As you can read in this article from Detroit Free Press, many important and significant moments in Chamberlain’s life are captured permanently in ink on his body. From his smiley-face scar from Tommy John Surgery to ethnic heritage to dates when his father’s medical issues nearly took his father’s life, he has inked these memories on his body to share his story.

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Chamberlain’s many tattoos tell the stories of significant events or parts of his life. Notice the Ichthus and Cross on his left wrist

For Chamberlain, there have been many challenges which required faith to sustain. First, there was Tommy John Surgery. While not the career ender that it used to be, it is still a significant injury and surgery for a pitcher. The injury, surgery and rehabilitation often lead to a loss of velocity for a pitcher. Overcoming it is still a challenge for a pitcher. Chamberlain was 25 at the time and was already in his 4th full season in the Majors.  He had a World Series ring already (2009) But the injury takes a long time to rehab. For Chamberlain, it was 14 months.  But adversity is not a new thing to Joba.  As you can read in this excellent article from Sports Illustrated, Chamberlain’s childhood and youth were not easy. His parents separated when he was 1.  He bounced around different apartments with his mom before his dad became his primary caretaker. But his father had polio as a boy and now gets around on a scooter because his left leg and arm do not work.

Joba and his dad Harlan, with the Yankees, read their amazing story here.

Chamberlain has the verse in Corinthians tattooed on him because as the Detroit Free Press article says “And he is religious — across his left arm, Chamberlain has a large tattoo of God’s hand and a bible verse from Corinthians. “For we walk by faith,” Chamberlain says, “not by sight“.

Here are my takeaways from Chamberlain’s story

1- Playing a Game – Chamberlain has dealt with a lot of hard things in his life. The DFP article says “He said baseball is the easy part of his life. It’s his escape. Just like the fans who sit in the stands”. He goes on to say “I play a game for a living, It’s not that serious.” Great perspective from one who has battled some hard challenges in this life. There are bigger and more important things that baseball or any career. The only thing that matters is knowing God and surrendering to Him.

2- The Same, Just Different – Those four words sum us up as people. We are essentially the same, we want the same sorts of things, we battle the same kinds of things, too. And yet each of us has a different story, marked with significant events that shape us, direct us and stay with us.  I really connected with Chamberlain’s story as I read about the tattoos that he has, and the significance of each one. For many years, I wanted to get a tattoo, but couldn’t really settle on what I wanted to have permanently inked on my skin. I considered a maple leaf (like a good patriotic Canadian), various cartoon characters that I really liked (I’m glad that I didn’t go that route). The best idea that I had was to get a tattoo wedding ring because I knew that my marriage would be permanent. But I didn’t do it right away and then lots of people were doing it and it seemed less exciting. And so I figured I wouldn’t get a tattoo.

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My tattoo is a recognition that God is real and has made some amazing promises to us. He is faithful!

But then a significant life event occurred. Last March, My wife and I lost a baby – born still at 20 weeks. That was an impossibly difficult shock to the system. I had never really had to grieve much before and all of a sudden, I was consumed with my own grief as well as having the heartache of watching my wife and my other children grieve the loss. I was brought back to a post I had written just a month before this happened. It was the story of quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife Jill. They had been through a lot and in an interview, Jill said “It’s not even a ‘Why, God?’ question, it’s a ‘How, God?’ How do we get through this? Little did I know when I wrote that post that those words would come back to comfort me. I would never understand why our baby died, but I firmly held on to the promise of Romans 8.28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God—those whom he has called according to his plan.”  I was challenged not to ask “Why God did this happen?” but How will you use this for our good and Your glory? And the good that I have experienced through the pain and grieving is a closeness to God and a sense of His presence in my life beyond what I had noticed before. Is there still sadness? yes, but God is working and has given us this part of our story. How He will use it is up to Him, but I know and trust that He will use this experience for good purposes. So I now have a tattoo on my arm, a painful experience (tattooing) to pay tribute to the pain of loss and a message of hope because there is Hope in Him and His plan. I chose a tragedy mask because it is in the midst of tragedy that we are tempted to call out “Why God?” But with this new perspective that I’ve been given, I understand that I won’t necessarily understand the “Why?” but I know that He has the “how” already figured out.