Monday, July 11, 2011

Team USA

-People are starting to talk about our team, so we need a name, I say as Marco takes another shot.

The ball goes sailing over the goal and toward the creek. Ivan puts on his socks on the sideline.

-Los Immigrants, Adrian suggests.

-How 'bout HB-87s? Alan jokes.

-No. I got it. USA. It's simple, Omar says, looking around for any dissent. Heads nod around the circle of players as it forms. Like that, we become USA.

This takes place on a Tuesday. We are fresh off a win against a team that beat us twice before I took over coaching. While we gather around, kicking soccer balls, joking in Spanglish, getting ready to do our sprints, the feeling is that we can make this little neighborhood team into something good.

I'm still reeling from the fact that I'm even here. Guys on this team have made fun of us, written obscenities on our door, picked on kids in our afterschool program, and generally avoided us for peer pressure reasons.

Then, one night while they watched a police officer grill some of the neighbors on something, I asked Ivan and Bon Bon what was going on. They shrugged, then asked, Hey, you wanna coach our soccer team?

I showed up at the first practice, not sure how things were gonna go. Then Omar, the other coach, who supposedly couldn't coach anymore because of a job at QT, showed up too.

It's been a bit messy ever since. Our players go back to Mexico, get distracted when their parents go to prison, show up to practice under the influence, and sometimes burst into tears. There are alliances and insecurities and everyone has to watch his back most of the time.

But we've started playing like a team. We're learning to build each other up. We're taking some pride in who we are, and where we come from.

For the first three years in this neighborhood, I prayed that God would give me a way to connect with the middle and high school guys. They are at risk right now for gang involvement, drug use, incarceration, gun violence and deportation. It's a good time to show them love.

Now, living out God's answer as their coach is a confusing, turbulent, hilarious adventure. It demands about ten hours a week in addition to my writing and ministry work. But the time, sweat, and pain are well worth it, to be involved in the turnaround we're seeing, to get to play during scrimmages, and to see the development of pride they've taken in who we are together, as team USA.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thanksgiving in July

This morning, on my drive to work, I did some thinking about this blog, where I have done a great deal of wrestling, where I have spilled some of my doubts and the mess of my life, and where I have proclaimed victories as they run through my hands.

And to those who read and to those who follow, I must give thanks. Without you, this is a clanging gong. It's a waste apart from you. So here are a few thanks I offer:

To Uncle Tim, who made this whole project possible. By loving us, inviting us, placing us here, and showing us how to make neighborhood ministries work.

To Dad, who tells me that he sees God's hand leading my life, which makes me tear up, but I keep cool for the sake of the conversation. To Mom, who loves patiently and hears the truth in the mess of the things I write here. To Lisa, Eric, and Gina. I'm proud to be a part of this wild clan.

To Adam Fites, who walks before me into the corners of man's mind, past those corners to the glory beyond.

To David Park, who fought for me, beside me, who gives to the Father's work in our life and in our neighborhood. To Josh, who has mastered at least three art forms (music, design, and bike mechanics), and still pretends like he's no big deal. To Jonathan and Kelly, who live more boldly than I ever could. And to Tim Isaacson, who inspires and leads us through the mess of life here in Chamblee.

To Eric Beach, for giving my writing a home back in the Brew days, and for the things you've said about it ever since.

To Kacie, an old friend with the courage to listen, read, think, and speak, all at the right times. To Ernesto, whose writing and reading led to the birth of this whole messy project, and whose work leaves me trembling, breathless. To Keith Evers, who supported us, housed us, and showed us what faithful friendship looks like.

To Jeremy, the brother of my heart. I know you read this stuff. You are, and have been, the best friend I could have hoped for.

Okay, I had about ten more, but this is starting to feel pretty sappy, so maybe I'll do another one of these later. To those listed here, and to the rest of you who follow, I feel that you are reading. I read your comments carefully, and they move me. Thank you.