Some stories that I share in these blog posts relate very closely to me and part of my story. It is a point of connection that I feel and the lessons that it drives home for me is the meat of what I write about here. But some stories it is hard for me to wrap my head around. Like the story of Mikie Mahtook, outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays drafted him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He made his MLB debut on April 10, 2015 and has played in 170 MLB games at the time of this writing. Mahtook has known some success in baseball – first team All-American at LSU where he was also a member of their College World Series championship team. But for Mahtook, life at LSU was bittersweet. You see LSU is where his father played college football in the early 1980’s. But as you can read in this article from The Alabama Baptist, tragedy struck in 1994 when Mikie’s dad Michael died of Cardiac Arrest at the age of 32. Mikie was 4 years old. The article continues, sharing how this hardship brought the rest of the Mahtook clan to a stronger relationship with Christ. He says “I wouldn’t be the person I am without [Jesus]. I’ve gone through a lot of heartache. If you don’t have [God] to help you out, it makes it that much harder to get through it.”
The result has been a close knit family, a growing relationship with Christ and an opportunity to give back. He has started the Mahtook foundation which raises money for and spreads awareness of heart disease. Check out the website here. He also plays the game of baseball passionately and with a purpose. He says “I think He put me here to influence other people positively by the way I play, by the person I am and the stage I am on.”
Here are my takeaways from Mahtook’s story
1- A story redeemed free of bitterness. – I really like the story of Ruth in the Bible. It is a great love story that demonstrates the concept of “redeeming” Boaz goes to amazing lengths as the “Kinsman Redeemer” which is one that comes to the aid of a relative in need. He helps Ruth and Naomi who are in need after the deaths of Naomi’s husband and 2 sons leaves her alone and poor. Boaz agrees to marry Ruth and a bi-product of their marriage is their great grandson – King David. It is also an early example of what Christ does for us, coming to our rescue to save us from the trouble sin has brought to our life. But early on in the story, before the happy ending can be imagined, Naomi only sees the negative of her situation. In Ruth 1.20-21, we read “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” She had allowed her bitterness to take over. This is easy to do. There are lots of things that can make us bitter. From hardships like losing someone to troubles at work to people being mean to us, it can be easy to let bitterness define you like Naomi did. She had lost sight of what God could do. But God shows up anyway and redeems her story through Boaz and Ruth. With Mahtook’s story, there is also lots of room for bitterness. But in the articles that I read, there was no sense of that. Instead, there has been a happy ending. He and his family are close to God and to each other. He is not allowing bitterness to define him, but rather sees the opportunities that he has been given to share his story and the importance God has played in his life. Great lesson for all of us to stop and take inventory of God’s work in and around us. There is no room for bitterness when we fill our hearts with gratitude for all God has done.
2- Influencing people positively – Mahtook says that he believes God has placed him to “influence other people positively.” As Christians, that is the best that we can hope for. We have so many opportunities to communicate with people that may not share our beliefs. Unfortunately, Christians have a reputation of being negative and looking down on others judgmentally. Don’t mis-read this, we cannot compromise the truth of God’s Word, but we can be cautious in how we present those truths to those who have never encountered our God. We need to remember, like the story of Ruth, that all stories can be redeemed. I like to compare us to a coupon. By ourselves, we are worthless, many coupons say “no cash value” or something like that on them. The only way that they gain value is when they are redeemed. That is our story, too. We are worthless on our own, searching in vain for purpose for our life and coming up empty. We try to fill ourselves up with all kinds of things and none of them, apart from Jesus, give us any satisfaction. But when God shows that He value our life by redeeming it and giving it purpose, we honor Him by sharing the value that He has given us and that he offers to others too. We can be positive influences to those around us when we share the story of our redemption.