Standing Out, Making A Difference

Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier is reading aloud what he’s typing:

“1945, America’s greatest generation came back from war. ‘The flags of freedom fly over Europe,’ a voice comes over a radio. Nazi Germany had been defeated, and three months later, Imperial Japan surrendered as well. ‘And there’s jubilation around this earth…’ –again the radio announcer.

“Men returned home, among them some of Baseball’s most beloved names: Musial, DiMaggio, Williams. Life in the United States could return to normal, and baseball was proof-positive that democracy was real.

“A baseball box score, after all, is a democratic thing. It doesn’t say how big you are or what religion you follow. It does not know how you voted or the color of your skin. It simply states what kind of ballplayer you were on any particular day.

“African Americans had served their country gallantly. But they returned home from fighting to free the world from tyranny, only to find racism, segregation and Jim Crow law still waiting at home. ‘Segregation was the law and custom of the land, and no group was more scrupulous in its observance of custom than organized baseball,’ a newscaster voices over images of a ‘Whites Only’ placard on a public wall and a ‘Blacks Only’ sign in a restaurant window.

“There was a long road ahead. If African Americans dreamed of playing baseball, it was not for the New York Yankees but for the teams like the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, where the barnstorming style of play stood in contrast to the majors.

“In 1946, there were 16 major League baseball teams with a total of 400 players on their rosters. Every one of the 400 players were white. But when opening day came in 1947, that number dropped to 399, and one man stood apart.”

Recognize that opening scene from 42?

Great movie. From beginning to end…and did you catch all the spiritual parallels? Maybe it was just me. Or maybe they were intentional, or maybe God just had my ear. The bit about the baseball box score though, was clearly God’s ever-watchful eye to me, recording not what kind of ballplayer but kingdom player I’ve been ‘on any particular day.’

And then, “When opening day came…one man stood apart.” Man! those words bolted upright and pointed right at me. God was talking to me, challenging me to get about my Father’s business.

As a Christ-disciple, each morning really is opening day. And I want to stand apart in my own little piece of the world–inside the boundary lines that God defined for me since before the foundations of the earth. Lately, I been asking God to make a difference through me, even on the road in my car. Especially in my car. (I can road rage with the best of them.)

And though I’ve never been a Sunday Christian, I’ve wasted decades of pro-active seed planting, watering, introducing anyone to Jesus. But that was about to change come the beginning of fall last year.

Since then, I’ve been spending extra time around a whole new people group, thanks to my little grandson. It’s been years since I’ve mingled with unbelievers, because I’m usually teaching Bible studies or working with a Christian Writers Group. Stepping out into new territory with unbelievers now, I was depending on God to open doors to serve these new people, on their turf –that is, I know that they don’t have my worldview. I’ve had to pray that with any task I’d be given God would help me to do it with excellence and gentleness and politeness. (Yes, I do have to ask God to remind me of those things.)

No matter how I might feel on any given day or how shy I know I can be sometimes, I’ve been asking God to help me to initiate greetings with each person I run into in the halls, out on the walkway, in the classroom, in the parking lot. Some people don’t make it easy either. And some people…well, I can feel inferior and clam up and walk past them without acknowledging them. And isn’t that why God has me here? To let these people know that God loves them, sees them, hears them?

I would have to focus on drawing them out, not heap mounds of my life on top of them. And eventually, I trusted that God would open a door for me to talk about Jesus to them.

Wouldn’t you know it, this one morning, one of the gals there at the school rushes up to my car, and I roll down the window on the passenger side. “By the way,” she says, “people are asking ‘who is that lady, so ‘n so’s mom? Grandma? She is so nice.’ ” Then she says, “people here are noticing you. I wanted you to know that you’re making a difference.”

Did you catch that? ‘I’ was making a difference.

Now in my brain, I know it’s God making the difference through me. But in my flesh, in my glory-stealing flesh, I hear that people like me. And I gotta tell you, it felt pretty good. But it got even better.

She studies my face and says something about this glow about my face or my eyes or something…Stop! Stop! Stop everything right there. You gotta know this, I’m almost 60 years old. I’ve got graying hairs that are as rebellious as I used to be before I met Jesus. I’ve got crow’s feet. I’ve noticed my nose is getting bigger the older I get, and I can’t ignore the 30 pounds I haven’t set my mind to losing yet. And those are the things I’m thinking about while she’s talking about this ‘glow.’ But she never really came out and asked me, “What is it about you?” That certainly would have been my cue.

Instead, I got all embarrassed and told her I had my mom’s genes.

My mom’s genes?

Okay, okay, but it sounded like the right thing to say at the moment.

Days later, however, this thing is beginning finally to nibble at my conscience. Enough so that I mention it to my husband. “I wonder if I should have said something to her about Jesus. What do you think?” He tells me, “If you’re wondering if you should’ve said something, it’s probably the Holy Spirit telling you that you should’ve said something.” Yah.

I hate it when he’s right.

I could just hear God whispering from inside me, “Kiddo, you asked Me to make a difference through you. I gave you the perfect opportunity and you made it about you.”

Well, I’m grateful that God’s mercies are new every single morning. Because this ‘I’ve got my mom’s genes’ thing was really eating me up by now. And still, obviously, I hadn’t gotten to the bottom of it all. Because God ends up sending me, not one, but three metaphorical prophets.

Three of my friends, each at different times, had recent run-ins with unbelievers who were baffled by how nice or good they each were. And each of my friends, without batting an eyelash, responded identically: “It’s Jesus. It’s not me. I’m not nice. I’m not good.”

I gotta tell you, by the time the third friend told me her story, I’m feeling, not thinking, feeling two things: I’m almost turned off by how instantly confessional she was about not being nice or good. And, I’m mortified that I have not been seeing myself in the same dim light. But my conscience was so instantly pricked I couldn’t wait to get home and be alone with God, to make things right.

My friends really get it, that apart from Jesus they’re nasty people, mean, lawbreakers. (and these are women) Apparently, I didn’t want anyone knowing that just beneath my surface was an entirely different person, capable of a multitude of sins. That without Jesus ruling from inside me I’d be another complaining, judgmental, arrogant, so and so. I was still (and this goes all the way back to grade school) needing to be liked. That was at the bottom of my response.

Needing to be liked…It was so strong I hadn’t noticed that it had become my idol.