Faith in Christ leads to action
“Eckhart, where are you?” I was surprised to hear Coach Haines say my name, especially now. After Friday’s season-opening loss, he had started his Monday talk praising our Junior quarterback. So what did he now want with me? I raised my hand slowly from my back-row seat.
“You did a ‘helluva’ job.” That’s all he said to me. However, it sounded as though he was pleased. I had heard him sound that way before, during the winter wrestling season. When I kept losing every match, he praised me for not getting pinned. Yet I also remembered what he did just a few weeks earlier during a scrimmage game after I had a holding penalty. He kicked me square in the rear when I lined up for the next play. Somehow, despite the shock and the pain, I heard him yell, “Don’t ever do that again!” The words became etched in my mind and my muscles.
As the team left the school building on our way to the practice field, Frank Fogt, one of the line coaches, explained more. Over the weekend, the coaches watched the film of Friday’s game with St. Marys, and they discovered that my blocking performance at offensive guard was outstanding. I thought that I had done well, but this was unexpected. After all, I had sat the bench all last season, until the final play of the final game – one play for the entire year.
Actually I hadn’t been a starter since the seventh grade, when Coach Carpenter said that if I continued to play as well as I did at quarterback, I would surely get a college scholarship. But he left town after that season, and I had struggled through my football days ever since. What seemed to keep me going until my Senior year was some strange combination of unexplainable dogged perseverance and an unexpressed fear of what others would think of me if I quit. Before games in our Sophomore and Junior years, Tim and I used to hang out with other nonstarters. It seemed that we hoped we could play, knew we wouldn’t, but feared even the possibility.
My friend Dave was a great inspiration. As we worked during the hot summer before our Junior year, making countless bales of hay, he told me that he was going to make the team that year – that he would make the team, and he did. So if Dave could make it, why couldn’t I? As our Senior season approached, I was determined to be a starter – that was my goal.
Dave became the team captain that year, and all during the pre-season, he and Bill were the starting offensive guards. Then my break came when Bill was injured just before the first game. My goal would be met – at least temporarily. I would be a starter! And so was Tim.
Dave was injured for the second game, and Bill and I were the offensive guards. Joe and I were named co-captains for that game: an honor that I approached with mixed emotions because of Dave’s injury. However, Dave returned as captain the next week, and he and I were the starting guards for the remainder of the season. Bill started at outside linebacker, and he took my place for the Greenville game. On the day before that game came the early morning call. From my bed, I heard my mother on the phone before she and my dad drove off. I knew why. That day I said nothing about it at school. I went to football practice as usual. But full realization hit when Coach Tackas and Coach Fogt asked if my parents were coming to Parents’ Night. I had no answer to their question. I choked out the only response I could make, “my grandpa…died.” For me, Parents’ (and Grandparents’) Night was at the funeral home, not the football stadium.
Our season ended with a mediocre 4-6 record, much less “sting” that anticipated from the 1967 Yellow Jackets. Yet I relished victory. I was a starter, playing beside two of my good friends – John at tackle and Ken at center. The biggest surprises for me, however, came later.
When my friend Pete called to congratulate me for making “all-league,” I thought he was kidding as he liked to do. But he insisted it was true. I wanted to see for myself; I had to see for myself. So I drove into Sidney to buy a newspaper, since ours wouldn’t come in the country until the next day. It was still hard to believe, but, yes indeed, it was true!
At the banquet, Joe was awarded “Most Valuable Player” – an honor that was probably unanimous among coaches and players. But I was thrilled again when my name was called to receive the offensive lineman award. The awards continued after the banquet, almost to the point of overextended embarrassment. The “most improved player” trophy made sense, but being named to the 2nd team “all-district” was something I wouldn’t even have dreamed of.
As an adult, I have often reflected on that season. Does it have special meaning, illustrating God’s working in my life? Is God using it to show me something?
How can I follow and be closer to life’s team leader Jesus, as my Lord and friend forever? How do I obey the calls Jesus makes upon my life, and carry them out fully.
Where does the desire to be a starter come from? Where does the faith to be a spiritual starter come from? How does it develop? Could it be that our Heavenly Father, the Creator of the universe, has also started me with a certain infinite hope and then builds my God-given qualities by patiently coaching me? And doesn’t the loving God both discipline and encourage me, bringing me into greater service for Christ’s team? How do I respond to God’s direction?
Is my change from quarterback to guard – allowing me eventually to perform up to and even beyond my football potential – a parallel to my life change from making my own calls to listening and responding to the Holy Spirit – producing the thoughts, words, and deeds in me and from me that immeasurably surpass the best that I alone could ever strive for, or ever be?
Why “offensive guard”? Those two concepts (OFFENSIVE + GUARD) don’t go together, do they? If they do, when am I to be offensive and when am I to guard? What am I to be offensive about, and what do I guard? Am I being called to: confront the strong; protect the weak? When? In what situations? How am I to be offensive without being judgmental? How do I guard boldly without blocking truth from my own thinking? In my position, how do I follow the Way, reflect the Truth, and express the Life of Christ-like devotion for God’s goals? How do I interrelate with other team members, the fellowship of believers, as the Body of Christ? No longer blocked or blocking, how do I show love to everyone, even those who are enemies?
It’s hard – no, impossible – to answer these questions on my own. Still, the Lord prepares me to answer His call, “Don, where are you?” With trust in God, I will respond, “here am I.”
A True Story with Spiritual Implications
I originally wrote this paper circa 1990 when I
was asked to lead a middle school writing team.
The football season of my Senior year of high
school always held a certain interest for me.
However, it wasn’t until I started writing the
details of that season that I realized that God
was speaking to me through its events. Thus,
the story helped me to understand who I am
in Christ and how I relate to other believers
A paper written circa 1990
and edited May 14, 2015
Don Elijah Eckhart
Here Am I
Jesus Christ is at the center of my life. I am a follower of Jesus and I am led by the Holy Spirit. I still make mistakes, but they are mine, not God’s. I am still learning, and I long to grow in faith. I have compassion for people and have helped many people by God’s Spirit.