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Hope on the Hardwoods

I know this makes three of my last five posts dealing with my son Thatcher but hey, it is what it is…

My son has Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s somewhat mysterious in that doctors aren’t sure how it happens or even how to classify this neurological disorder. Most experts lump it in with autism labeling it an “autistic spectrum disorder” because children who have it display autistic tendencies like underdeveloped social interaction, motor clumsiness and acute fixations that go well beyond normal. Bottom line, my kid is the one with quirks that make him stand out as weird and awkward to other kids his age. Throw in the fact that he’s clinically ADHD and you’ve got a lot on your hands as a parent who trying to find places where his son can fit.

Like basketball.

I come from a family of athletes. My father had the opportunity to play in the NBA, my mother was a tennis player and regional director for the USTA, my middle brother a tennis standout and my youngest brother went to the state tournament in basketball. I, like the rest of my siblings, played every sport under the sun. My father coached me in basketball until junior high. Up to that point we had gone to the championship every year. I cherish the fact I played basketball as a little child growing up. I developed relationships, improved my abilities and generally loved hitting the hardwoods. When I was on the court I felt at home.

Until my son started to play basketball.

We’re three weeks into the season now and I can easily see the difference between Thatcher and the rest of his teammates. What takes them relatively no effort to do with blossoming skills he slowly labors with results that, at their best, are half as productive as his peers. They run through layups, he still has a coach guiding him to the basket. They shoot from fifteen feet out, he barely draws iron at four. They pass it to everyone on the team, Thatcher runs up and down the court without ever touching leather.

His teammates know Thatcher is different. Practices come with giggles and teasing at his expense. Little pushes, pokes in the side and the occasional basketball punched out from his hands as he stands in line are par for the course for a child whose impulsive behavior leads him into more trouble than praise. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice. Needless to say it’s very tough for a dad with my kind of history, but something happened tonight to put things into perspective.

Thatcher’s two coaches huddled the team on the floor at the end of practice, a practice in which he’d been teased…again, held everybody up in their drills…again, and run several laps for his behavior…again. But circle-up time showed Thatcher’s prowess on a different “court”. Thatcher is in a church basketball league where the coaches at some point in the season sit the kids down to share the Gospel with them. So with tracts and a script in hand, his coaches spent the better half of 15-20 minutes talking about Jesus and his work at the Cross. I was watching from a distance when I saw my son raise his hand. One of the coaches said something to him and then the most interesting thing happened.

He began to talk for a few moments…just him…to them…to all of them, coaches and kids. I was too far away to hear but I knew it was something special because each and every kid looked at Thatcher with mouths agape and eyes wide open. They were still. They were riveted. They were in awe. His coaches smiled in bewilderment. It was this “I can’t believe this kid can do this” kind of smile. The smile fathers dream their sons would create in others. When Thatcher, who was completely still and reserved during the entire episode, had finished talking, kids were turning to look at each other in amazement and both coaches were giving my son pats on the back and loads of encouragement.

After practice was over I asked one of the them what happened. With a big smile he said, “We started talking about the Gospel and your son volunteered to recite John 3:16 – and he quoted it to us!” The other coach overhearing our conversation excitedly chimed in, “Yeah, and Thatcher didn’t miss a word! Not only that but he quoted other Scriptures we used to share the Gospel.”

Whoosh! Nothing but net.

When you put it all together, basketball practice becomes quite a large mountain to climb. I know unless something dramatically changes, he’ll probably never win MVP of his team or even make the team for that matter. But what Thatcher demonstrated tonight with a group of his peers far outstrips any of his father’s lost dreams on the hardwoods. Tonight reminded me that I have been given a great grace and blessing in a son who’s received that which is most important. He has the Gospel, not only in his mind but in his heart, and I would gladly trade a thousand dreams for the reality I experience in him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16 (NIV – Thatch’s translation)

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

4 thoughts on “Hope on the Hardwoods”

  1. That is amazing and wonderful! He is such a cute kid.

    My dad shared about his visit to Houston and the church. Oh, to have a chance to see it now (and the people in it)

  2. Gucci Little Piggy

    It was a sheer joy to see your parents! They are some of the best people on the planet!!!

  3. yance, my dad sent your blog-link to me…i’m so glad he did!

    what a blessing your last entry was to hear. and for one who is not a sports fan at all, i was glad to hear that Thatch is using that arena for something greater than himself…or rather, that God is using Thatch…and at such a young age.

    thank you for that refreshingly honest entry.

    -b dub

    (bekah wesley)

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