I have decided to post some of my favorite stories over the next few weeks. They may be a bit longer than my other posts but hopefully they are worth it.
Standing Room Only
For my oldest son’s 14th birthday he had only one request. It wasn’t a party. It wasn’t a gift he’d had his eye on. He just wanted to take some friends to a Detroit Tigers game. It seemed like a great idea and I agreed to his request. I checked the schedule and they had a home series against the New York Yankees the first week of July. It was almost ten years ago now in 2000, the inaugural season of Comerica Park. The Tigers were woeful so I didn’t buy tickets ahead. Surely there would be seats available.
He selected his friends. The day arrived. We loaded his buddies and his brother into the minivan and headed south on I 75 toward downtown Detroit under gloomy skies. Inside the vehicle they were giddy with excitement which became irritating to me as the rain began and then increased steadily. I was gradually losing the battle with my attitude and by the time we reached the park my state had blown right through crabby and was headed for surly.
We found a parking spot and started walking toward the ticket window. Confidently I approached the bullet proof glass where a lady with half glasses sat. I barked my request through the four inch porthole covered with a stainless steel grate, “I need 8 tickets, what do you have available?” She laughed. She really laughed. Right in my face. “The only tickets I have are standing room only or few $150 box seats.” I looked over at the pack of boys laughing and punching one another oblivious of our situation. The birthday boy was smiling wide. The box seats were out of the question. “How much for standing room only?” I asked. “$15 each,” she said. “$15 a person to stand out beyond the right field fence….in the rain!” I didn’t say that out loud but I’m sure my face was shouting it. I pulled out the plastic and bought the tickets with an attitude going from bad to worse.
It was early so we found our designated area. I stayed put and the boys went exploring. Have I mentioned it was raining? Every once in a while they would circle back to check in and then disappear back into the milling crowd. I don’t know how much time went by when I started to notice a very large uniformed man walking slowly through the standing room only area. He’d walk and look, look and walk. I was sure that those boys had done something wrong and he was searching for the adult responsible for them.
I watched him closely trying to figure out what was going on but tried not to appear obvious. All of a sudden he approached me. “Yep, he’s figured it out. I’m the one supervising those hooligans.” “Where are your seats?” he inquired. “We don’t have any…just standing room only,” I answered. “Big spender, huh?” he shot back. “How many in your party?” he asked. “8,” I said. By then the boys had seen the large man in the security jacket talking to me. They must have figured I did something to get in trouble and came running.
The large man asked, “Do you know who Mr. McHale is?” “Nope, sorry.” “It’d really help if you did.” “Sorry I don’t.” “Well,” the man said, “Mr. McHale is the president of the Detroit Tigers and I am his personal body guard.” “Oh, nice to meet you,” I said still wondering what this was all about. “You see, before every home game he gives me his personal tickets to walk through the crowd and find someone to give them to. So do you want to stand out here in right field or would you rather go sit behind the dugout?”
The man finally cracked a smile unable to contain himself for the sheer joy of this part of his job. We were all speechless. He led us down the corridor along the first base line. We made the sweeping right hand turn to round home plate. Then he led us down the stairs until we were shown 8 seats priced at over $150. It was only then that I realized it had stopped raining.
We watched the ball game in seats I could never afford. We saw all the action from a vantage point far better than I had ever experienced. Everything from my attitude to my bank account was evidence that I didn’t deserve to be where I was. Yet there we were somewhat numb and still astonished, enjoying ourselves more than we could have ever dreamed because of the generosity of someone else.
When I think of the word grace, that’s the scene I picture.
Grace is such a powerful and beautiful thing. Unfortunately it sometimes gets lost in religious jargon, is trampled in theological debate, and can be wrung out of meaning in our attempts to define it. But sometimes we get glimpses of what it really is, which are far more vivid than any word study could be.
- I believe God loves to sneak up on us and surprise us with His goodness even (or maybe especially) when we’re pouty, sour, negative, and distracted.
- I believe God loves to move us in from out in right field, bringing us into the action to experience life differently than ever before.
- I believe God loves to give us a new perspective, His perspective.
- I believe God does all this with sparkling eyes and a big grin.
I think if Jesus would have been with us that night at Comerica he would have said, “The kingdom of God is like a father who took his sons to a baseball game…”