This week's "Dear Younger Me" letter comes from a beloved member of the Colorado baseball community, Tom Walters. Tom is the initiator of this Bottom of the Ninth devotional series and his passion for telling Christ's story through the game of baseball is contagious. Tom has been friends to coaches at Valor Christian, the Colorado Rockies scout team, Diamond Club, and many others in the state. Tom even threw his hat in the ring as the mental game coach for the Eagles over the past three season. His story is as rich as God's grace is to every one of us. Sit back and enjoy Tom's letter to himself in this week's edition of "Dear Younger Me."
Dear Younger Tom,
You're going to have to trust me on this, I have some mileage that you don't yet have! There will be many of life's lessons that you will fight. You will be given opportunity after opportunity to learn that he has a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you. Relax, enjoy the ride, this is your life unfolded.
From your elementary school years, you'll learn to read and write but more importantly you'll start to learn to love. Moving half a dozen times before you are nine will seem like life's not fair. You'll find that making friends only to move and need to make new friends is a challenge but it will give you great practice. Someday, some of your best friends will joke and call you the Mayor because strangers are just friends you haven't yet met. You see, this is part of God's plan.
Moving to Great Falls, Montana will be a really good thing. You will go to Saints Peter and Paul from the 4th through the 8th grades and you will make friends you will have for a lifetime. Father Dave Bielafeld will convince you that God's not a vending machine for you to put your token prayers into so He will dispense a new horse or a big house and the easy life. Father Dave will give a sermon about how people can be like a winter glove, tough on the outside and warm and soft like rabbit's fur on the inside. He will challenge you to show more of the warm, soft inside of your heart. This is a lesson that God meets you where you are and He loves you. For the first time you will identify deeply that God is love and that He loves you and wants a relationship with you.
You'll learn that life's not fair and that you don't get a Mulligan to go back and be nice. You will bully Kyle Mahon. You'll push and shove and punch him in the hallways at school. You'll call him May Hog. Kyle will get leukemia and die at the ripe old age of eleven before you ever get a chance to say you're sorry. You will never forget how you feel when Kyle's brother Bill asks you to carry his casket at his funeral. The feeling of being a two-faced hypocrite will drive you to tell every kid you know about Kyle Mahon and the love he taught you despite your never having been nice to him one day in his life. God's got a plan for you, He used these lessons to teach you about love and forgiveness. He loves you and He forgives you.
Sports will be important to you from a young age, a place to compete and a place to grow, to challenge yourself, to grow athletically and to grow in life. Dad won't make it to a game to see you play. Dad's absence will be all too familiar over the years, but the familiarity will never make it stop hurting. He won't make a football game, he won't make a wrestling meet, he won't see you ski. He won't make parent-teacher conferences. While it doesn't seem like it and he doesn't know how to show it, your dad loves you. God's got a plan, He is using these lessons to teach you about love and forgiveness.
Saints Peter and Paul was a small parochial school and moving to East Junior High School you'll feel like you're a guppy thrown from your familiar fishbowl into an ocean filled with sharks. You'll be ok. You will make new friends at EJHS that you will have from the 9th grade to the grave. Mrs. Mather will foster your interest in science. Heidi Heim will be your first crush. You'll be exposed to booze. The scare with your eye will be just that, only a scare. It's all going to be ok, God's got this, He has a plan and He is planting seeds, teaching you to trust Him. The lessons from elementary school are repetitive, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.
You'll go off to Great Falls High School. Dad will try to talk you out of playing high school football saying that you're too small. You will play against his wish. He won't make it to a game. Dad's absence will hurt even more when you realize that your football coach is one of his drinking buddies. He'd go see Coach Reid at the bar but he won't come watch you play and that hurts. In your effort to be one of the guys and to fit in, making the basketball team was a big deal, it will be a boost to your confidence. Dad will make it to a game, but he won't stay because you're on the bench. He won't come to another one. Neither of you will discuss that event.
You'll have a couple of big surgeries that are benchmarks in your high school years, one because it saved your life, the other for the killer scar! You will face tragedy close to you when your friend Tom gets in a car wreck at prom. He and three of your buddies will go drive Tom's brother's Camaro after they'd been drinking. That accident will kill three of your football teammates. Tom will live the rest of his life with his choice to drink and drive. The wreck will sober you…for awhile. That same year, another classmate will have a wreck drinking and drag racing that will leave another teammate paralyzed. That wreck will sober you…for awhile. The lessons from high school are not new, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.
You will struggle as a freshman at Montana State University. You won't ski fast enough to travel, you won't study enough to make A's or or even B's in a few classes, and you will search in a bottle for answers. You won't find them there. This will be a dark, self-reliant God forsaken time. You'll tell people that you haven't forgotten God but that religion is an institution and you have no intention of being institutionalized. You will feel like you're on your own to find answers about who you are. When you don't find answers, you will search harder by drinking harder.
Dad will go through alcohol treatment after your first year of college. Wow is that a big deal! Dad will tell you that he loves you. He will tell you that he's sorry for the way he's treated you and for the first time, it seems real and you want to believe him. God must have a plan!
One day you will walk into the bathroom at home where there is a prayer on a card on the mirror that has been there for years, but this time you read it. Slowly. It’s Footprints in the Sand, which ends with,
“Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?"
The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen
Only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you."
After reading it you will sob! While this is a heart-felt message, you will need a several more lessons in the shortcomings of self-reliance before you see that you really don't have to do this, heck, you can't do this alone!
You will spend the next few years in school performing marginally and drinking at a semi-professional level. The day you will meet Kary you'll ask her on a date and after six months of badgering her, she'll agree to go out with you. You will misrepresent who you are. You'll go to coffee on your first date and tell her that you're sober. Dad's sobriety will help ruin your drinking career, the truth about your drinking will become undeniable, though you will try and try to hide it and swear that this time will be different or that you can handle it. Kary is sober and in time, eventually, you will be able to thank her for helping bring sobriety to you. Kary will give you a reason for sobriety, you will finally love someone enough not to let them go in favor of your drinking. You will finally have enough pain to do something about it. God is behind it all, this is His plan even if you don't or won't yet give Him credit.
In sobriety everything will begin to change and you will be reminded that God is not a vending machine. You will continue to peel the layers of self-reliance (fear) to realize that God really does have this! Cerebrally you will know that with Him all things are possible but some of your old ways will die hard.
You will graduate from Montana State University with a degree in Biology and realize that Pre-Med was a way to win dad's approval and to feed your ego, not something that you really wanted, it certainly hadn't been something you wanted enough to put the bottle down or buckle down and study. You will meet your mentor in veterinary medicine in a ski shop. You'd discounted veterinary medicine because the vet at home as a boy was one of your dad's derelict drinking buddies. Your newfound mentor has his skis in his office, he's smart and athletic and he challenges and encourages you. God is showing you your calling. Doors open to coach skiing and that position takes care of tuition so that you to put some good grades on the end of your transcript to make a competitive application to veterinary school. You earn a chemistry degree in the process and the lessons from college are starting to sound familiar, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.
You will get to go to veterinary school in Colorado and will head to Fort Collins without Kary. Veterinary school will challenge you academically, it will challenge your faith. You will realize that leaving Kary behind is a big mistake and in her absence, you will realize what she means to you and before Christmas you will fly to Montana to ask her to marry you. You are married that summer and within 3-4 weeks into being married, Kary will tell you that she has always wanted to go to veterinary school! You've known her for 3-4 years and never before have you heard even a peep about vet school except to encourage you! She has a degree in graphic design for Pete's sake! You will encourage Kary to follow her dream to become a veterinarian and she is steadfast, amazing in her dedication to become a veterinarian.
You will struggle as a newlywed. Veterinary school will challenge your marriage. School will have your full attention and you give it first billing. Letting down at school has consequences. Kary will understand. You won't see it in the midst of it, but you are paving the way for marital problems and maintaining your self-reliant relationship with God will bite you. Kary makes A's in all of her prerequisites for vet school, cranks out a high score on her admissions test and is admitted to vet school and will begin the year after you graduate. Attending veterinary school back to back and stringing that stress together for eight years between a husband and wife isn't anything you'll wish upon an enemy, particularly if God and a sound reliance on Him is not at the foundation of your marriage. The Lessons from veterinary school are familiar by now, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.
You will struggle a long time to understand what happens when people and relationships are taken for granted. The next years will see Kary in veterinary school in Fort Collins and you will further feed your ego. You will have your own practice within six months of graduating from vet school 90 minutes separated from Kary in Parker, CO. This is a great recipe for professional success and a marital mess.
Our son, Levi, will be born midway through Kary's senior year of veterinary school. Talk about God's love! Kids are His greatest gift this side of salvation! Talk about lessons in perspective! Talk about loving someone! Your dad will seemingly learn a ton the day that your son is born and will become instantly wise. He will have perspective. Kary will graduate on schedule through dogged determination. Life becomes fast paced, practice is booming, Kary is at home with Levi. You will grow further apart.
Divorce can be likened to a boot to the belly, that's if it goes well. I'll tell you it's more like being gut shot and it's not if you get peritonitis but when and how septic? This is what happens when you are self reliant, self absorbed, and you spit on God's plan.
Divorce sucks. Time with Levi is divided and logistics make love difficult when the best way to show love is time. Skiing is the biggest connection you have with Levi. He is a very successful young ski racer. He is always in the top ten at races in Colorado and usually on the podium, he even has a couple of top 10 results nationally. A few years go by and Levi will come to you and tell you that he thinks ski racing has been more about pleasing you as a dad and less of a love for him. He wants to hang up his racing skis so he can pursue his love of baseball. It comes as a punch in the gut. You look back at trying to please your dad. You will look at Levi's ski racing success but in time it all sinks in and you will be able to get behind Levi and encourage him as a baseball player.
He has a great season traveling with Coach Robert. Coach Robert steps away the following year and coaching is left to one very well intentioned dad and one of Satan's helpers. Nine guys make up the entire team, the Iron Nine as they come to be known. That season was a train wreck! That awful experience will motivate you to advocate for Levi in baseball. You will make it your mission to see that baseball is played the right way, that kids come first, that life's lessons are taught and that values are in the forefront of the game. You will hunt for coaches by watching hundreds of youth baseball games. You will interview coaches from Broomfield to Colorado Springs and everywhere in between. God will put Coach Bonn in our lives. Levi is challenged athletically, physically and spiritually and he grows exponentially in response.
Levi will lobby you and Kary to attend an open house at Valor Christian High School. You will go and you'll be absolutely blown away by the presentation. You and Kary will put Levi first in your lives and come together to send him to Valor. It will be the best investment you've made to date. You have told Levi for years that you are proud of him on his worst day. He will take full advantage of the opportunities that Valor makes available to him and there will be lessons in success and failure and there are countless opportunities to be proud of him and his achievements. Baseball will be a roller coaster for Levi as an underclassman and it will culminate in a state championship as a senior, the pinnacle of high school baseball. Levi has has made friendships in the Valor Baseball Brotherhood that will last a lifetime. Levi's lessons from baseball and from high school are very familiar, God's got a plan, he loves you, he forgives you and he wants to have a relationship with you.
Out of hard work, dedication to academics, athletic growth, great coaching and only through God's hand, Levi will be recruited to play baseball at The United States Military Academy, West Point. He will accept his appointment on your birthday, a birthday you'll never forget. Army baseball will go through some changes and the coaches who recruited Levi will be let go and replaced by coaches who don't know him. He will get through BEAST, West Point's version of boot camp and will be so thankful for baseball as a respite from the academics and the military training and the grind of The Academy. You will receive a phone call from Levi that feels like a boot to the belly. He got cut from the baseball team and is wondering if he really ought to tough out the hell that is life at West Point without baseball. You will tell Levi that the decision is his but if he is asking your opinion, heck yes it's worth saying at West Point without baseball. A day or two later Levi will call you to tell you that he has spoken to the captain of the ski team at West Point, he's going to stay at West Point, ski race again, and become the best officer he can become and serve his country. You well with pride and credit God for Levi's maturity.
This is life, the opportunity to learn life's lessons are everywhere, God has a plan for you, He loves you, He forgives you and your relationship with Him is awesome!