Bella has been playing basketball this winter. It has been so fun to watch her do something all on her own and enjoy it. She has gotten pretty good at dribbling and shooting and it is the most adorable thing ever to hear her yell at her teammates, “I’m open!”
It’s been really good for her to be on this team. On the first day of practice, she was in tears in the first three minutes. The first drill was to dribble the ball around the court. She must have bounced that ball on her shoe 14 times and it went flying across the room every time. When she got back to the starting place, she just broke down. And I wanted to run over and rescue her. I wanted to make sure, in that moment, that she felt known and loved and every bit of the amazing little girl that she is, even if she wasn't great at dribbling. But Loren gave me a look. I know that look. It’s a look that says, “Let her fail a little. Let her figure it out. Let someone else speak into her life. This is good for her.” Her coach walked over and gave her a hug and then they talked for a minute. Bella told me later that she said, “You know, Bella, everyone is just learning here. Nobody expects you to do it all perfectly. We’re gonna learn together.” Words of life for my little one.
When I watch her now, eight weeks later, I can see all the ways that she has grown. Sure, she’s gotten better at the game, but I can see the ways most don’t know about. I know how important it is that she has learned to go for the shot, even if she doesn't always make a basket, because I know she struggles with a desire to never disappoint anyone. Though it may seem strange, I love watching her dribble down the court, accidentally bouncing the ball off her shoe, and just running after it, picking it up and continuing on with a smile. Because laughing when you make a mistake like that means that you know those kinds of mistakes aren't who you are. They’re just mistakes. In basketball. And we don’t always have to take ourselves so seriously.
You know what else? Not once, has one of her teammates been annoyed with anyone who made a mistake on the team. They have been the most gracious little 1st and 2nd graders. And I have loved watching her settle into the freedom of that grace. That kind of grace makes you excited to try something new instead of fearful. It lets you giggle when you make a mistake instead of dissolving into tears. And it has been such a gift to my little girl.
Her coaches are another gift. I love that they ask each member of the team what the best part of their week was. Then they ask if everyone is doing well in school, if everyone is obeying their parents and staying out of trouble. They begin each practice by reminding these kids, in subtle ways, that their whole life matters, not just how they do on a basketball court. They remind them that their teammates are other kids just like them. This is little kid sports at its best and I’m one grateful Mama.
Bella has loved playing basketball, but I don't really think it's the sport she's crazy about. Last week after her game, she said to me all sing-songy, “I love basketball so much. It’s so fun!” And I told her that I was so glad! Because I love seeing her enjoy herself, and because I fully understand what a gift it is for her to be able to love something, even when it is a challenge for her. Then I asked if she thought she wanted to play again next year. “Oh yeah…for sure, Mom,” she said. And I said, “Well, what if you aren't on the same team as Lilly (one of her best friends in the whole world). “Oh…probably not then,” she said. What?!? But, I should have known. Bella may throw herself into something and enjoy herself silly while doing it, but that something has always only been as good as the friends that are doing it with her. That’s what matters most to her. I love that about her. And really, what fun is bouncing the ball off your toe and sending it flying, if your friend isn't there to giggle with you about it?
Bella is going to be tall. She's already tall. But, it remains to be seen if God equipped her with such height in order play down low under a basketball goal, rebounding easily over those other shorties and laying it up nice and soft for two more points. I know why he equipped her with such a big heart, though. And as she lives into all he has planned for her, my prayer is that what she is learning in basketball translates into the rest of her life as well. That she would know grace in such a way that it would give her the freedom to take risks. That she would experience that same deep grace when she fails. That she would know that her whole life matters, not just a moment. And I hope that she continues to believe that relationships are much more important than all we can accomplish.
If she’s on a basketball court someday, you can bet I’ll be there to cheer her on. But in life, there are bigger fish to fry. And I pray I’ll get to be there for those, too. Encouraging, cheering, praying, giggling, and reminding her that grace isn't just her middle name. It's a way of life. The ONLY way to life. And we'll be thankful together for the friends that come alongside us and make everything a whole lot more fun.