I sat at the end of the bench. If there were a spot beyond the end of the bench, I would have gladly sat there. The floor was a thought but Coach would not allow it. The corner at the end would just have to do.
Greg, Walter and a few others had the best seats. They were the starters. Their seats were empty right then simply because they were out of the floor playing the game of basketball. It was the United Methodist Youth team v. the Baptist Youth team in the remnants of the city of Mt. Hope, sometime in February of 1977.
I probably would not remember the date very well but forty laps at a practice that week kind of burned it into my brain. When you are the ninth man on the team, you hardly think anyone would notice that you aren’t at practice so I blew one off that week to go see “King Kong”. (It was the 1976 version with Jessica Lang and almost any eleven year old boy might choose laps to watch Jessica Lang.) When I showed up for the next day’s practice the coach simply asked where I was and when I fessed up to being at a movie he thought it was worth forty laps. At least he did not make the whole team run them. They would have finished a long time before I did and each time they would have passed me the taunting would have been unbearable.
Perhaps that is why I was hiding in the little corner on the end of the bench so well at that moment. It was not the laps. It was not the impending taunts. The Coaches were way to close for any of that to take place but I knew the locker room was just a couple of short basketball periods away. The real taunting would start then.
I had played in the game. It was a rule in our little church league that everyone got to play one quarter. The coaches decided to put our weaker links out on the court in the second period and I marched out with them. I remember Coach Groves words well, “Just play good defense. Don’t let them score too much and when you get the ball, get it to Greg. He can work it from there.”
Well, I played pretty good defense most of the time anyway. I was the shortest guy on our team and could often sneak around without being noticed and occasionally steal the ball. Shooting? Forget it? I was about 1 for 30 from the free throw line, another place I would never stand except during those interminable practices.
But something strange happened in that game before I found my corner of the bench. The other team had the ball. One of their not-so-good players took a rather wild shot and it bounced off the front of the rim like a bullet and came right towards me. I didn’t think. I didn’t hear Greg yelling for the ball. I dribbled twice and worked my way into the lane and shot…
…For the other team.
I didn’t even wait for the Coach to pull me out when I heard the laughing Baptists congratulating me for the extra two points. I simply walked to the bench. Grabbed my corner and stayed there till the end of the game. I knew the taunting would come in the locker room. It almost always did. Meanwhile, I sat on my little corner of the end of the bench.
Even now, I still find myself sitting on the edge of the end of a pew from time to time. I have even caught myself moving forward on those huge cushy seats that they give preachers to perch upon during the rest of the worship service. Every once in a while, it is a comfort to sit on the edge and wonder what kind of grace it is going to take to allow God to use me the way God wants to use me. Trust me, I am far enough forward in my seat as I type this to feel the back wheels of the chair lifting off the ground.
Sometimes, I know that being on the outside, well, that’s the only place to find true grace.