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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tools for the Task at Hand

Been thinking about King David lately. He had no business defeating Goliath, especially with only a slingshot and a few rocks from a stream. Likewise, Queen Esther had no reason to expect she wouldn't receive a death sentence for speaking out of turn to her husband, the king, let alone confronting him at a banquet.

While I'm at it, I'm pondering the colonists' gutsy stand during the American Revolution, which they didn't have a prayer (well, clearly, they had a prayer) of winning. And let's not forget the Abolitionists who harbored slaves during the Civil War era, and brave souls like Corrie ten Boom and Irena Sendler, who put their lives on the line to rescue Jews during WWII.

I've often wondered how I'd cope with such life and death choices. Would I put myself in harm's way for the greater good, or wimp out like I've done so many times before?

The conclusion I've come to is, I'll never know. I wasn't asked to slay a Philistine giant or rescue God's chosen people from annihilation. I haven't been called upon to shepherd runaway slaves through the Underground Railroad. But God has seen fit lately to send certain challenges my way. I feel small and shaky, as I suspect the aforementioned activists did when they considered their options. I don't have a pebble shooter or a hidden compartment in my house, but I do have a voice and a pen. More than that, I have God Almighty walking beside me and living within me.

I have everything I need for the task at hand.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend our school's Save a Heart event. This is a fundraiser to support heart disease research, and it's very popular with the kids. They get to have a whole afternoon off after a long week of standardized testing, and participate in a plethora of relay games requiring teamwork and not a little strategizing. They love it.

I found several of the activities intriguing. Stonehenge, for example, requires each student to select a tall wooden block and build a sort of pi-shaped (yes, I do mean pi, as in the Greek letter) sculpture, one piece at a time, based on their recollection of a model they viewed briefly before beginning the exercise. One misplaced block can topple the whole structure, so they have to correct each other's mistakes before placing their piece. If the unthinkable happens and it gets knocked down, they have to begin the process from scratch, thus putting them in last place.

As you can imagine, the larger the sculpture becomes, the greater the pressure on the individual block layer not to upset the proverbial apple cart. I watched in fascination at the kids' concentration as they worked out problems and tried not to be the "fall guy." I imagined how stressful it must be for them to have all their peers and teachers watching their progress, and to realize that their teammates were relying on them for the win. I thought of how tempting it would be to turn tail and run rather than stick it out; how disheartening it was to be the reason for the team's failure. And yet, these little sixth graders plugged away till the last block was laid, for better or for worse, and not one dissolved into tears when things didn't go as planned.

Another activity that caught my attention was Thread the Needle. This title is deceptively simple. The goal here is to build a free-standing hula hoop sculpture as a team, after which each student must pass through without tumbling it. Success is iffy at best, but the beauty of the process is that, when one student has the misfortune of ruining the structure, the others immediately rally to his aid and quickly rebuild, enabling their teammate to take another stab at the prize. I was agog at the cooperation and perseverance shown by these pre-teens.

River Raft Relay is another team challenge. Here there are two "rafts," AKA gym mats, laid out next to each other. The object is for half a dozen or so kids to tiptoe one at a time off one and onto the other, after which the last "passenger" passes the rear raft to his teammates till it becomes the one in front. They have to repeat this process until the whole team makes it across the gym, gingerly squeezing too many 12-year-olds onto a mat the size of a pavement slab. The game requires stealth and patience, two things we don't normally equate with pre-adolescents.

Happy Gilmore is perhaps the most remarkable, as it more or less combines all the aforementioned skills into one activity. Each student receives a half piece of PVC pipe, onto which a golf ball is set. The aim is for one student to pass the ball to the next, via the pipe, without letting it drop. The trick is to make the swap quickly but cautiously, so the sender can run back and hand off the pipe to his waiting teammate, who then relieves the current holder of the golf ball. Too fast leads to disaster; the ball drops and they have to start over. Too slow leaves the holder hanging out to dry, as he struggles to balance the tipping ball with no one to pass off to. It is a game of precision and skill, camraderie and self-control. It's also an exercise in tenacity, as too often the swaying ball wins out over the tottering sixth grader, and the team is forced to start all over again.

What all these relay games have in common is, there are no shortcuts. The players' only hope of victory is to follow directions to the letter, staying the course despite frustration and setbacks. Defeat is only one misstep away.

Sometimes the only way to go is through.