Making the Team14
by Kim Pillow
With the Olympics on right now, I keep thinking about team sports. I enjoyed being a part of various teams in junior high and high school, and learned so many invaluable life lessons with each. Playing basketball and running challenged me the most, but I really enjoyed cheerleading; I absolutely loved being a part of “the squad.”
Throughout my junior high years at Central Delta Academy (CDA) in Inverness, I was a cheerleader. In 9th grade, I was co-head cheerleader, but I would have to transfer to Indianola Academy (IA) a year later since CDA stopped at 9th grade. Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to try out for cheerleader at my new school for the fall, since tryouts were in March and I wouldn’t be a student at IA yet, I went to the administration at IA and asked if I could be given permission to try out since I would be an incoming student. My chances were slim since I didn’t know many folks at the new school. I wanted to be a cheerleader so badly that I agreed to try out in front of the entire high school student body. Even though it was not a shock, I will never forget the disappointment when I didn’t see a check by my name …. I indeed did not make varsity cheerleader.
I can tell you first hand that it is no fun to be cut. The sheer embarrassment hurts deep to your core. I tried to move on and began spring track practice which then led to summer basketball practice. About three months since getting cut, I got a call at home one night from Carol Walden, the Indianola Academy cheerleader sponsor. She said, “How would you like to be an IA Cheerleader?” I could hardly believe my ears. I was the alternate; a girl that was a cheerleader had to move schools and an extra spot opened. This was on a Friday, and I was to join the squad, leaving for cheer camp on Monday. I don’t remember many more specific details from my time cheerleading this many years later, but I do remember that this group of girls were welcoming and took me right in. When I think back, this opportunity changed my entire high school experience. I so appreciated being given a second chance.
Fast forward about 25 years, when my own daughter tried out for cheer and didn’t make it. Without going into all the details, let’s just say it wasn’t fun. Twelve girls tried out in her 10th grade group and eleven made it-- she was the only one who didn’t. (OUCH!) This blow came on the heels just months after a seemingly out-of-nowhere cut from the basketball team. (The school hadn’t cut any girls in 10 years, and now after having 20 spots on the junior varsity team for years, the coach dropped to 18 spots, just because.)
I felt my “mother monster” surface when my daughter experienced two ugly rejections. My sinful self was not very loving at first. God worked on my heart, and I was able to pull from my experience of not making the cheer team, knowing worldly successes fluctuate. While I wished I could erase the pain, I knew this time would shape her in a profound way. Usually, the greatest lessons come from deep hardships. Our relationship grew closer as we walked this hard, new path together. It feels like the end of your life at that age, but it’s times like this that you either get bitter or better. I remember hearing the story when the book The Help came out that Kathryn Stockett received 60 rejections letters before her book was accepted. The key to her success was persistence and not giving into the shame of being rejected.
In early 2000, I was at a New York Life meeting and heard a fantastic motivational speaker, Gus Gustafson, who authored a book entitled Turning a Set-Back into a Come-Back. Gus was a standout basketball player in high school in spite of having lost his right arm and shoulder in a tragic childhood farm accident at age 9. After a knee injury ended his collegiate basketball career, he was devastated. But, once again, his faith and courage sustained him and he redirected his energies, building outstanding academic and business careers. When you face an obstacle in your life, Gus said that each set back is an opportunity to grow. He encouraged the audience to lose all self-doubt and to find the strength to succeed. He shared with us three simple keys: Process the garbage in your life; never give up; and have the courage to face the next challenge.
I loved this first point: to process all the garbage in your life. He said that the “garbage truck” will dump on you in your life, then, you have two choices. You can either sit in it and smell like it or you can process the garbage and move forward. My children have heard me say this over and over: life is hard, and life is not glamorous. No one is immune to the garbage truck. Life isn’t fair.
When I experience rejection or disappointment, it always exposes a lack of grace for others in my heart and the pride in my arrogant thoughts. The Bible tells us to “love our enemies & pray for those who persecute you.” You can’t do this by yourself, you have to have the Holy Spirit. Naturally, we don’t love others like we should and want to be the only thing that matters in our own lives. Daily dying to self does not sound fun. We want our ego stroked, not stifled, but instead, we are to live out the Scripture that says Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself.” That doesn’t mean fake it til you make it. It is praying to God to help you sincerely have a change in your love toward others. Daily prayer asking for God’s help to love others and practicing true gratitude in your heart for what you have. When you do make the team or get the promotion, it is having the same sense of humility and security in your faith that comforts you in moments of rejection. Giving the glory to God, not yourself. Forgiveness of those you perceive to have “wronged” you.
As Genesis 50:20 says, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” I shudder to think of how ugly a person I would be if everything always went “my way;” I wouldn’t be able to stand myself! Seeing things through the lens of a gospel-centered world and life view helps me to die to myself during trying times. As Matthew 25:31-40 tells us, we should move toward the mess in other people’s lives. Satan wants us to be self-absorbed. I have shared with my children the many life lessons I had learned during these hard seasons and will continue to learn as I age. Every year I have a “hard” thing that kills my prideful heart, and it is a chance for God’s glory to be on display. God is steadfast. He will keep me close and not let me go. I trust His sovereignty over my life. I also remember someone telling me some years ago when I was going through a hard time they said “Kim, this is just a point in time in your life, it doesn’t define your life!”
As many of you know from your own life experiences of job loss, a cut from the team, being excluded from a group, the last to be chosen, a bad health diagnosis, etc…. disappointments and rejections are no fun. It hurts your feelings to the core. It feels so ugly and downright embarrassing. Life can feel shameful and very lonely. Some of the most painful life lessons are when you hit rock bottom but more importantly you are brought to the end of yourself. The eternal comfort is that through Christ I am on Jesus' team, I won’t be cut. Ever. Christ took on rejection so we won’t have to. Now that’s peace. I can say I am a well provided daughter of the King. This is my only identity. The game is over. He has won!
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.