Field of Dreams

Well, apparently there is crying in baseball, contrary to Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. Like every other Phillies fan around the globe this past Sunday night, I watched Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres. As you may have heard by now, the Phillies won that game 4–3, and in the process, they also won the pennant. I may have gotten a little choked up during the post-game celebration. Raise your hand if you did, too. Be honest.

Now, I realize baseball is not everybody’s cup of tea, so this post is a personal reflection that goes beyond the world of sports. It’s more about those occasional flashes of joy that make our journeys sparkle once in a while, and for which we can be both happy and grateful. It’s about “high hopes” and learning how to wait patiently until those hopes are realized. (Thank you, Harry Kalas). Until a few weeks ago, it had been over a decade since the Phillies were involved in any postseason play. Now we’re in it to win it.

Sunday night: The Phillies had just surrendered a one-run lead in the seventh inning to put themselves on the brink of having to go back to California for the rest of the series. Nobody wanted to play Game 6 on Monday night at Petco Park. Not only would that squander our home field advantage, but it would also drag us right into the crosshairs of the Padres’ best pitchers. So, “the Phitins” wanted to clinch a World Series berth right here. Right now. This inning. Easier said than done.

Standout catcher J. T. Realmuto started the bottom of the eighth with a single to left field against right-hander Robert Suarez. That turned out to be huge, given what was about to unfold. The tying run was now on base, and the go-ahead run was coming to the plate. But who would be the next man stepping into the batter’s box? None other than our star cleanup hitter and likely Hall-of-Famer, Bryce Harper. 

Everyone was thinking the same thing. A two-run bomb would put us back in the lead and on the verge of clinching. Harper certainly has the guns to do it (even to the opposite field), not to mention the drive, the talent, and the history to do so—but how much magic can we expect from one player? He had already done so much for the team in the postseason, along with Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Zach Wheeler, and several others. But #3 lives for moments like these, and this was his moment.

Harper showed good discipline at the plate, laying off Suarez’s bread-and-butter pitch out of the zone. He then threw a 2-2 sinker toward the outer half of the plate. The location was good from a pitcher’s perspective, but somehow—with his trademark “violent swing”—Harper muscled the ball over the outfield wall and into the left-center-field seats for a two-run shot to take the lead. If you didn’t get to see it, take a look:

Fans at Citizens Bank Park went ballistic. Viewers at home went ballistic. I went ballistic. It was storybook stuff to be sure, and no one could have written a better script. It’s what every little boy dreams about from the time he can swing a whiffle ball bat. This dramatic video clip will be shown for decades to come. 

It was another milestone in the history of the club—a team I’ve been cheering for since I was a little boy. That’s why I got choked up Sunday night. Not just because we held on in the top of the ninth to win the game, but because it brought back some truly precious memories. The last time we won the World Series was in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Before that it was in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals. Before that, it was—well, there was no before that. 

The Phillies have won the World Series only two times since becoming an MLB team in 1883. Back then they were known as the Quakers. They became the Phillies later in 1890. For most of those 139 years, it’s been phrustrating to be a phan. I’ve often said that the Phillies are always good enough to give you hope but bad enough to break your heart. That’s been the story for most of my life, with a few notable exceptions. 

Why then do I keep cheering for them? Three words—family, friends, and memories. My dad took me to Veterans Stadium for the first time when I was about six or seven years old. It’s a memory that finds deep lodging in my heart, even to this day. 

I remember holding my father’s hand walking out from under the shadowy concourse into the bright, shining seating area. The sun sprayed the radiant green AstroTurf with a brilliance that illuminated a perfectly manicured ball field, dazzling this little rookie into silence. I was in awe at the sight of it. And the sounds of it. And the smells of it. It somehow felt like I belonged there. At that moment I fell in love with baseball in general and the Phillies in particular. I’ve been a “Phanatic” ever since.

I also remember my dad getting me a dish of vanilla ice cream poured into in a little red plastic Phillies helmet—my very first baseball souvenir (and one that may still be boxed away somewhere in my attic). We also got hot dogs, French fries, and Cracker Jacks that day, purchased from the vendors walking up and down the aisles hawking their treats. Dad was happy, and I was over the moon. I didn’t understand the game very well back then, but the Phillies won, and that resulted in a lot of loud cheering—something I had never experienced before at that level of intensity.

My family, friends, and I went to many more games over the years, and we got many more souvenirs. Of course, we watched more games on TV than we attended in person, but we always wanted to know how our Phillies were doing. We could catch the nightly news, or read the box scores and standings in the paper the next day if we missed a game on TV. (I had to share the tube with my dad since he was a Yankees fan. Obviously, I’m adopted.) My heroes back then were Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, Bob Boone (who autographed a baseball of mine), Greg Luzinski, Gary Maddox, and Bake McBride. 

I got to watch the second World Series victory in 2008 on the big screen with my church family. Several parishioners still remember the final out of that game—a strikeout by closer Brad Lidge—and they wrote us messages this week recalling that wonderful time of fellowship and celebration. Some of the kids were even at church in their pajamas that night.

Oddly enough, the Christian message is another good reason to stay with the Phillies through all their peaks and valleys. As Jesus sticks with those of us who keep striking out spiritually until we become more healthy, stable, and productive, so I can stick with the Phillies through tick and thin, regardless of their winning percentage. The theological word for that is “grace.” We all desperately need it, so we should all be willing to give it.

Having become a baseball junkie early on, I tried out for our middle school team and made the roster. By the start of my second year, I had worked myself into a starting position in the infield, and I loved every minute of it. Game days were always the best days, even when we lost. There’s nothing like going home tired, sweaty, and dirty after a game, knowing you did everything you could to help your team win. If you fielded well and got a hit or two, so much the better.

As life would have it, I was better at swimming than baseball, so that’s where I put my athletic energies in the years to come. I made it to the NCAA Division 1 Nationals, twice, and it wound up paying a big chunk of my college tuition, so that was the right call. But deep down, baseball was always my favorite sport. There’s just something about the game that captivated me as a little boy, and it’s never let go. Over time I learned that every pitch has a strategy, and every strategy has a counterstrategy. So, the issue is always one of anticipation and execution. Good teams do both well.

Back to this past Sunday. Right after preaching the morning service at our church, I came home and lost my voice. Laryngitis set in a few hours before the game, so, I couldn’t even yell for my team during that amazing come-from-behind, pennant-clinching victory. But I sure did grunt and snortle like a muffled rhinoceros a few times. 

Then there were the silent but exuberant gesticulations of this little boy in a man suit whenever the Phillies put runs on the board. Sonya now knows how Michal felt when David danced before the Lord (cf. 2 Samuel 6:14–20), though I didn’t actually do anything that could remotely be called dancing. I just lumbered around the living room like a drunk baboon looking for a lamppost to lean on. (I’ll blame it on the meds I was taking.) In the end, though, myriad expressions of delight found ways to ooze out of my body from other portals besides my pie hole.

What will happen in the 2022 World Series? I have no idea, and I make no predictions. Houston has a great team, and I have a personal no-trash-talk policy. Athletes at this level are so good, any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s just a matter of who’s clicking and who’s finding their groove in the moment. I never expected the Phillies to get this far, and I suspect very few other people did, too. So, even if they come up short at the end of this round, I’ll still be proud of them.

In the end, the best of our sports heroes are just human. They have good days and bad days. They have moments of great accomplishment and moments of great disappointment. They have seasons of good health and seasons of nagging injuries. They have big dreams and big hopes, just like the rest of us. Let’s let them be human and have some fun together, regardless of the outcome.

One dream I’ve had for a long time is to see the Phillies play in a World Series game—in Philadelphia, the city of my birth. I am blessed beyond measure to share with you that this longstanding dream will finally come true.

As of now, it looks like I’ll be going to Game 3 (Monday, October 31) or Game 4 (Tuesday, November 1). Look for me on TV. I’ll be wearing red and white. And if I get my voice back, I’ll be cheering as loud as everybody else, too.

I plan to buy myself a little red plastic Phillies cap filled with vanilla ice cream (yes, they still sell them!), and I’ll think of my dad while I’m eating it. I’ll no doubt revel in the magical atmosphere again, just like I did my first trip to the ballpark. Just like I did on Opening Day this year, which was another first for me. Yes, I was there when Kyle Schwarber started the season off with a first-at-bat home run, something now known as a “Schwarbomb.”

And, like everybody else, I’ll be waving my red “rally towel” for the Phillies, grateful beyond measure that my father introduced me to this wonderful sport all those years ago. While I’m there, I’ll be keeping the seat warm for little Samuel. Maybe someday day he’ll want some ice cream in a red helmet, too.

Rubber Duckies and Mashed Potatoes

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted any Samuel pics and clips, so prepare to be deluged with cuteness! Our little Bubby passed the 10-month mark earlier this month, and he continues to be a source of great delight to all of us. Sometimes I have to fight back tears of joy while simply holding him because I love him so much. What a gift the Lord has given us!

I have such a great time with SamJam when we’re together, and I’m exceedingly blessed to be able to see him at least three or four times a week. I’m thinking Christmas is going to be a blast this year. I had better start preparing now for “adorableness overload.” 🙂

Enjoy!

Getting ready for his 10-month photo shoot…

Hold the sign a little higher…

There we go

If you’re happy and you know it…

Helping Grandma do her grocery shopping…

Until it’s nap time…

They do feed me, but when I’m teething…

I could just melt when he looks at me like this…

Plotting his escape…

Held by Aunt Joan…

Video clip time: Learning how to jump…

Learning how to sing and dance…

Making fun sounds on Mommy’s thigh…

Rubber duckies, followed by the breaststroke kick…

Saying, “Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma…”

Giggling at “My Turn, Your Turn”…

First time eating mashed potatoes…

Learning to say, “More” using sign language…

Celebrating the Phillies post season run…

Coming over to see Grandpa…

BONUS

I performed a wedding last weekend at Camp Swatara, and the autumn leaves were breathtaking…

‘The queen is dead. Long live the king.’

Queen Elizabeth II
April 21, 1926 – September 8, 2022
Prayers for a prominent and beloved family. Memories of our time in London and Oxford are flooding back.
A double rainbow appears over Buckingham Palace as crowd gathers to mourn the queen.
The queen served as the United Kingdom’s monarch since 1952, a 70-year reign unsurpassed by any other.
As a woman of deep Christian faith, Elizabeth now has the supreme honor of casting her crown at the feet of the King of Kings, even as she reunites with those who have gone before her in grace.

From Cackling to Squealing

Last week I wrote about our Cackling Little Bubby and shared a few clips of Samuel putting us in stitches. Here’s a clip of his newfound capacity for squealing. It reminded me of an article in the UK Independent several years ago in which scientists claimed that dolphins and whales squeal with delight “like children” when they are having fun. Samuel, I think, can laugh with the best of them.

And a couple more, just for fun. 🙂

Nine Months In, Nine Months Out

Samuel has now spent the same amount of time ex utero as he has in utero. Happy 9-month-iversary, dear one! But those nine months have just been chronos time. Every moment we’ve spent together with our little Bubby has been kairos time. (Yes, there’s a beautiful difference between those two Greek words for time.)

What a joy and delight SamJam has been to us since we first laid eyes on him and held him in our arms! (And, yes, his list of nicknames just keeps growing, as does he! Right, Boo?) Here are a few snaps from the recent milestone.

Unrelatedly, our Friday movie night venture is about halfway through season 4 of Stranger Things. Drew and I agree that a marvelous storyline is unfolding, and we’re looking forward to seeing how this arc comes to resolution. I suppose, then, that now is as good a time as any to recommend Michael Heiser’s The World Turned Upside Down: Finding the Gospel in Stranger Things.

ISBN-13: ‎978-1683593225

Dr. Heiser is a top-tier Old Testament scholar who’s been cited a few times already in my second dissertation. I have about eight or nine of his books and listen to his two main podcasts regularly. In addition to specializing in ancient Near Eastern cultures, he devotes a lot of his time to all things supernatural. For him, the stranger the better! But do pray for Dr. Heiser, as he is fighting a nasty battle with pancreatic cancer. So far so good, thank the Lord.

Be blessed and have a great holiday weekend!

Our Cackling Little Bubby

Samuel is such a happy little boy (except, of course, when it’s nap time). Lately he’s been hootin’ and hollerin’ and having a grand ol’ time with his newly discovered capacity for cackling. There’s even a brief clip below of daddy helping him learn how to scat. Maybe he’a a jazz singer in the making. It’s hard to believe he’ll be nine months old in two days. He’s an endless source of joy and laughter, and I love him to pieces! Enjoy a few slices of life through a child’s eyes.

Response to mommy coming home from a wedding shower.
Loving life on daddy’s shoulders.
Watch out, Ella Fitzgerald!

And a few pics…

Helping around the house.
First time in a grocery cart.
Just being adorable! 🙂

The Beach Bubby Is Back!

I missed this little guy so much last week while he was at the Outer Banks. From the pictures we received, it looks like he had a great time on his first trip to the beach. He also tasted ice cream for the first time, and the video below registers his verdict. (I may have given him some myself last night while we were watching him for a few hours. Shhh!!!) Oh, and I’ve made about a dozen “Samuel Sandwiches” since his return. 🙂

Bonus

Thank you, Kirby Keller for the new “squish baseball.” Dr. Keller caught it at a recent Reading Phillies game we attended together and gave it to Samuel. This could be the start of something big!

A Little Bit of This and That

1. We’re praising God that Samuel’s nephrology appointment yesterday resulted in an “all clear” report. He presently has no discernible stones or calcium deposits in his kidneys! The only thing that remains is for him to be tested to see if he has a genetic predisposition toward kidney issues. As a closed-adoption adoptee myself, I have no knowledge of any family medical history that I can add to the discussion, so I’m hoping the genetic test is conclusive. I’m going to miss him over the next 10 days as he took his parents to the Outer Banks for vacation. He promises to FaceTime me once in a while. 🙂

2. My summer camp speaking tour was exhilarating, even if tiring. All told, I had the privilege of sharing 20 messages at 3 different camps over 19 days. These messages included:

  • Three Hearts on Calvary (Luke 23:32-34, 39-43)
  • As Secure as You Can Make It (Matthew 27:62-28:16)
  • Our Father, Who Art Incredible (Isaiah 55:6-9)
  • Bride Life & the Church (Gen 2:18-24; Eph 5:25-33; Rev 21:1-5)
  • Negaholics & Complainiacs (Philippians 2:14-18)
  • The Leading Edge of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4a)
  • David’s Prayer for Mercy (Psalm 51)
  • Abandon Ship (Luke 5:1-11)
  • Yom Kippur, Part 1 (Leviticus 16:21-23)
  • Yom Kippur, Part 2 (Leviticus 16:21-23)
  • A Life That Counts (John 12:26b; 1 Cor 15:58b; Heb 6:10)

As I noted a few days ago, all three camps went well, and I appreciated those who prayed for me, as well as for those to whom I was blessed to speak. God was at work all over the place! As a mostly left-brain kind of guy, I don’t typically emote during messages, but I lost it several times during a 2-part sermon on Yom Kippur at the one camp. All seven feasts powerfully point to Christ and what he has done for us. I may eventually turn that study into a book. I also deeply appreciate the wonderful staff and volunteers I have who kept things running while I was away. What a blessing to serve on this team!

3. I haven’t gotten to spend too much time landscaping this summer, or posting pictures of our efforts, but the yard still looks decent. My new Japanese maple is doing well. So are the geraniums and the marigolds. A little bit of (post-dissertation) shaping and pruning next year will likely make things look even nicer. The older I get, the more I enjoy this kind of cultivation. Alas, the baskets are subpar, and my cherry tree is not healthy for some reason. Win some, lose some.

4. Speaking of dissertation, I had the privilege of chairing a ThD dissertation committee for a student who successfully gave his oral defense on Thursday afternoon. His accomplishment was remarkable in that English is his third language! The title of his dissertation was: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF A LONG-LASTING EVANGELISM PRACTICE IN A MULTICULTUAL COMMUNITY. His ministry context is Toronto, Canada, and his research produced some helpful insights for the church at large. He is going to take a well-deserved break and then consider turning his academic work into a popular-level book.

5. My mother-in-law’s geriatrician informed us last week that Lorena is steadily heading toward Stage 7 of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the final stage. She still knows who we are most of the time, but other than that, she’s in a perpetual haze and doesn’t remember that she lives with us. Her cognition and motor skills are declining fast. The only thing she does well anymore is eat. Extra grace will be needed over the next couple years.

6. The winding down of summer always used to be a sad time for me when I was in school—largely because it meant the end of the outdoor pool season, which I loved. Times change, though, and I now look forward to the unfolding of each new season, especially as we start moving into fall, which is just around the corner. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are divine.

7. There are many other joys and tidbits to share, but duty calls, and the pile is high. I’m several weeks behind on sermon summaries, so I’ll be trying to catch up next week. Some of the new friends I met at camp this year have said they would like to stop by from time to time and see where we are in the Word. The more the merrier! 😊 

May God richly bless you with an enjoyable weekend!

And the real voice of Jenny Lind in the show…

Eight Months and Counting

My camp speaking schedule has prevented me from posting regularly this week—sorry! And I’m a few days late on Samuel’s 8-month birth anniversary, so I need to get cracking! Happy belated birthday, dear one! You are deeply loved! 💙 💙 💙 Here are a few shots of the SamJam, who now loves to army-crawl, giggle, drool, and “sing.” (He did not want to sit still for this photo shoot!) Oh, and he still loves to play “Samuel Sandwich.” 🙂

Both camps have gone very well, so thanks to all those who have been praying. As a left-brainer, I don’t typically emote during messages, but I lost it three times last week during a 2-part sermon on Yom Kippur. All seven feasts powerfully point to Christ and what he has done for us. 

I’m commuting daily for this third camp gig, so I get lots of time in the car to think, pray, and worship. My playlist is so uplifting! Last night I was worn out after the evening session, so I vegged out to Enya’s Dark Sky Island on the way home. I forgot how much I like this album.

Enjoy the rest of your week…and for those in this neck of the woods…I hope you can endure the sweltering heat!

God Sees and Remembers

Yesterday’s rainbow was stunning. The pictures don’t do it justice, but here they are as a reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness.

“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)


P.S. Why do we still put power lines above our heads rather than below our feet? That really shouldn’t be a thing anymore, and in many countries it’s not.

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Humility

I was struck by the genuine humility Julie Andrews displayed after receiving the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year. Rare indeed is her talent, but rarer still is the sincere deference she showed to the many folks who work behind the scenes to convey her art to the screen. The clip of her acceptance speech is below. First, however, a little fun…

 💙 🎼 💚 🎹 ❤️ 🎵 💛 🎶 💙 🎼 💚 🎹 ❤️ 🎵 💛

Poolside with the Aquadorable

It’s too early to tell if SamJam is going to carry on the family business of being a competitive swimmer, but early indications are promising. He loves the pool and is fascinated by water. I suspect his lips and toes would have to be blue before he comes out willingly to get dried off and warmed up. He’s the picture of adorableness while poolside, but, of course, I’m forever biased. 💙 💙 💙

On another note, this past week was “let’s try to take some steps” week. He’s not there yet in terms of balance, but he can support his own weight and move his legs in the right direction. I’m astounded at the progress he’s making. Apparently, so is he. He smiles and giggles every time he realizes we’re enamored with his wiggly, jiggly attempts at forward motion. 

Finally, we can file this picture under the heading, “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps.” 

I cackled a bit when I saw it yesterday for the first time, so Bethany put it on him again today for our Sunday night hangout. Do I really need to mention that I had a blast “strumming” his strings? There might have been some pickin’ and grinnin’, too. Oh, and “tuning” the guitar just above the neck also led to some happy moments.

Maybe he’ll be a musician, too. That would fit the family profile.

Have a great week, everyone. Be blessed.

Bonus: The chatty one zooms in on himself!

The Newest Phillies Fan

Our neighbor across the street got SamJam a Phillie Phanatic doll. That was especially kind of him since he’s a Cardinals fan. At first Samuel was perplexed. Then he was intrigued. Then he smiled. Then he giggled. He was quite captivated by the long red tongue sticking out the long green nose. Best mascot ever.

All Chili Dogs Go to Heaven

1. My poor mother-in-law is prepping today for a colonoscopy on Tuesday, so we decided to have our Independence Day picnic yesterday and join her today in a period of, uhm, deprivation. Yeah, that’s the word for it. Deprivation. Nuff said! She continues to decline cognitively, and sometimes it’s a real challenge to know how best to care for her. Something seems to be wrong digestively, too, so we’re getting her checked out. Of course, it could all be mental. Either way, we’ll know soon enough.

2. Yesterday’s picnic treats included chili dogs (with mustard and onions) and a build-your-own sundae bar. We had three kinds of ice cream and about nine or ten different kinds of toppings. The most interesting topping was waffle cone crumbs, which turned out to be delicious. I’ve never had those before, but I saw them at Dutch-Way last week and wanted to try them. I’m pretty sure I could survive on picnic food! Especially chili dogs. All chili dogs go to heaven, right?

3. Since this past weekend was the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), we watched the extended version of Gettysburg, the poignant 1993 movie starring Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, and Martin Sheen. Just hearing the theme song is enough to get me choked up. Sadly, Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Officially, 7,863 were killed, 27,224 were wounded, and 11,199 went missing. My great-great-grandfather, Michael Link, fought in that battle and nearly died. I wrote about him here last year. 

4. Our current sermon series on the book of Philemon, which I’ve titled “Squeezed,” is meddling with many of our hearts. Paul’s letter to a first-century friend is only 355 words in the original Greek, but it carries a theological weight far beyond its length. It’s all about forgiveness and reconciliation. I keep thinking about Genesis 33:10b: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.” I had the opportunity last week at a wedding to see quite a few folks from a previous era, and it was a delight to reconnect. The divine Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is pure relationship—perfect unity, diversity, and mutuality, so it’s no wonder the Scriptures keep pressing us to be on good terms with each other to the extent that we’re able. God is completely unified within himself, and he wants his people to reflect him in this way by being unified as well. Something to think about before it’s too late.

5. Since I was recently dubbed “Instagramps” by a good friend of the family, I’ll need to live up to my new name and end with a few shots of Samuel. Apparently, he’ll be driving soon. 🙂

EDIT: Bonus Fourth of July Pics: