In what may have been intended as “tough love,” my college friend was very blunt: “Face it, Chris, you’re just a mediocre baseball player.” He was right, but it was still tough to hear as I wondered if all of the daily practices and off-season training were worth my relegated position to the bullpen as a middle reliever for a small DIII school, Wheaton College. For my first two years, I went through the effort, but rarely got the call.
A new coach and fresh start in my senior season seemed to signal that my fortunes were about to change. For the opening day of our home season, Coach Martin told me I would get the ball to start the second game of our doubleheader. I could barely sleep the night before, determined to show the hometown fans on that Saturday what I could do as a starting pitcher.
The first two batters went down readily, but then the wheels fell off. They hit everything, and hard. By the time Coach came to get me with the hook in the top of the 1st, I had given up 6 runs. Our mound conference was glum, and captured by a local Chicago paper. As I handed Coach the ball, I muttered “Thanks for the chance.” His reply was simple, and completely unexpected, “You’ll have another chance.”
I wasn’t sure that he really meant it, or how quickly another chance might come. In two days, while on the road at Rockford College, I found out. Our starter in that game also got in an early jam and the call came to me in the bullpen in the 3rd inning. I did my job this time, and my teammates went beyond, mounting an epic comeback so that we left Rockford with the win. The redemption I felt in getting my first “W” helped me put into perspective the devastating Loss of a couple days before.
More importantly, I learned something about second chances that transcended the game and stuck with me long after my playing days were over. My Coach’s belief in me in spite of my previous failure, and even though my own confidence was rocked, was powerful and affirming. It was an act of grace, and it strengthened me. I wanted to pay it forward, too, knowing the positive difference I could make in another’s life by extending a second chance instead of writing him or her off.
Grace Strengthens Us
The apostle Paul wrote his young protégé Timothy with this encouragement: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). That’s what grace does—it makes you strong. Nowhere is this more true than in the grace that God shows us, extending beyond a second or third chance. It made Paul write elsewhere “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), and recount God’s promise that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The remarkable thing is that we, in a small but important way, can have that kind of impact on another person when we take an opportunity to extend grace. I learned that on a ball field once.