Sports, kids, Jesus, and trying to make it all work


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Hockey is kind of an important thing in our family. It’s our jam. We own giant bags to hold the gear. I may or may not have a hockey mom emblem for my van. I may or may not own a giant button with my goalie’s picture on it. Last year at one point we had three out of four on the ice at the same time. I am a pro at lacing skates and have sweat-soaked laundry down to a science.

Jesus is also an important thing in our family. He’s so important that we focus all of our life on Him, as Christians. We aim to walk the walk and talk the talk, and make everything revolve around Him.  We’re so into Jesus that we chose jobs that let us spend 24 hours a day helping other people know Him. In fact, Jesus is our life.

Here in lies the difference. Hockey is part of our life.
Jesus is Life.

You’d think that knowing this difference would make it all magically easier. You’d think it would make things cut and dry. Always choose Jesus first, then hockey.

But what does it mean to choose Jesus first? Does it mean choosing church first? Does it mean opening my Bible at the hockey rink? Does it mean showing up in the pew every Sunday? Does it mean having conversations with my hockey parent friends about someone I know who changed my life- Jesus?

Can you see how complicated it can get very quickly?

And honestly, it’s not about hockey either. Our kids do any number of things – guitar, soccer, violin, lego club, etc. What makes something worthy of missing church or midweek or whatever church activity?

Add in the factor that my husband is the pastor. That’s fun. Are we held to a different standard? Are we models for putting church first? What is expected of me and what am I willing to give?

This blog won’t provide answers. I’m convinced that blanket rules and statements only push children from the church, push members from the church. When we push with the law, especially without a conversation, we push away from Jesus rather than towards Him, which was never our intention.

So, here are three very basic suggestions from me to you, from my perspective as a hockey mom, pastor’s wife, therapist, and, yep, Jesus freak –

1. Honesty in the struggle.

Every home is different. What works in my context for my family, my home, and my church, will not necessarily work in yours. There is no easy answer, but there is good conversation. I am convinced that this is what will help our children see Jesus living and walking in our lives – the hashing it out, the discussing it around the table, the sharing of concerns and frustration and figuring it out together.

One day this burden was so heavy on me that I stood in front of our church and told them, wringing my hands, “Hockey is a Sunday morning sport. Jonah’s the only goalie. If he’s not there, they can’t play. We decided he should miss practices for church, but if it’s a game, he should be there. This was a hard decision for us. During hockey season, we may be coming to church late, or leaving early. Very occasionally, when he’s supposed to play during church, we’ll go to a Thursday night service nearby. Sports and kids are hard. If you have ideas that have worked for you. Please let me know. Jesus always comes first, always. We love Him in a way that we could never even begin to care about hockey, but it’s not as simple as yes or no.”

I had whole families come up to me after church and tell me how grateful they were for the honesty. That they were in the struggle too. Honest is the beginning of real life together.

2. Figuring it out around the Word together

Open your Bible. Pray about it as a family. Pray with those who have gone before you and those who are in the trenches now. As a ministry wife, there was a another layer between my husband and I about missing church. That had to be hashed out too. It’s hard conversation. We don’t always agree, and I’m glad we have our Bibles open for it.

Ask, seek, and knock. “God, what would you have us do in this situation?” He will answer through His Word. This is His promise to us.

Matthew 7:7-12: 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

He is our Father and He wants to hear from us. He is faithful in responding.

Sometimes we will have to make hard decisions that make people unhappy. This includes ourselves, our children, the people at our churches, and the coaches of our teams. Sometimes hard boundaries are called for. At other times we can go with the flow and take it as it comes.

3. Get creative!

If you have more than one church service, pick another one. Some churches have services during the week or on a Saturday, when Sunday morning doesn’t work. Talk to the coach about the fact that church is important to you. Some are hard and fast. Many are kind and understanding. Most leagues have rules that players can not be penalized for missing practice or even games for their faith. Consider recreational sports over travel, to have more time available for other things.

Last year, our goalie was blessed to be on a team with two goalies. We showed up when we could and the team was extremely supportive. When Jonah missed a playoff game so that we could be in worship, one hockey parent came up to me later that day at the rink – “We knew you all were praying for us.” The team families knew what mattered to us most – Jesus and the people He loves, including them. Throw in a little hockey and it’s like icing on the cake of life.

No easy answers my friend, just authentic Faith, and a whole lot of Jesus.

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We’re in this together…

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
                                                                                 Ecclesiastes 4:9
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly…
                                                                                 1 Peter 4:8

Yesterday, Jonah had a crudey hockey game. He didn’t play horrible, but he got trampled and scored on 10 times. In goalie land, that stinks. And it feels stinky. I walked into the locker room after the game to find my son with his head hung down, still sitting with all his pads on. He looked tired and defeated. 

I tried to encourage him, build him up. He’s still relatively new at this hockey thing. He played hard and stopped a million shots. He’ll get ’em next time. All my words and encouragement were good and maybe even helpful, but only made so much of a difference. He still sat slumped over and dejected.

And then…light. A puck landed square in Jonah’s lap. I looked up to see a skinny little hockey teammate. He slapped Jonah on the shoulder and said, “Good job, Jonah. We’re lucky to have you, man. I’ve been there. It’s hard.”

He went back to have a seat. Jonah turned the puck over. Written on the puck was the word “WOW” in boy handwriting. Jonah looked up at me and said, “Where are we eating dinner? I’m hungry.” And I knew he would be just fine.

Someone – nay, a teammate, a comrade – lifted him up. He said in a thousand different ways, “We’re in this together.” 
What a difference together makes.

There are dark and difficult times in life. There are also just moderately junky days, embarrassing moments, and times we feel let down or like we let everyone around us down. What makes the difference?

God created the church for a purpose. He’s a God of relationship. When those around us rally and take a moment to recognize that we aren’t an island, we aren’t a ship tossed alone at sea, but we are a body, built and knit together in Him, this is how we reach around us. Who are the ones that need to hear “I’ve been there. It hurts. But you’re not in this alone.”? Who is waiting to have the puck land in their lap and to be lifted up by the acceptance and warmth of the team?

Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your pastor, maybe it’s one of the youth, maybe it’s your grouchy neighbor. There is One who has walked the dusty road, who knows what it’s like. Who embraces us because He loves that which is broken, not just to fix it, but because it is broken and he sees Together in broken.

Either way, sister, brother, you are not alone. 
We are in this together. 

Jonah carried that puck around with him all day today. I think he learned this life lesson long before I ever did. He can move forward. He’s ready to be all in, because he’s not in it alone.

Smelly, sweaty prayers

In our house, one of my favorite things to spot is this giant bag sitting in front of my washing machine. It’s black and red and huge! I lean down and slowly unzip the zipper and wait for the smell. What wafts up at me?

Sweaty, smelly, little boy scent.

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for that smell. I’ll wash those gross hockey sweat infested clothes for years on end, if he’ll let me. To me that scent represents so much more than just a gross boy who needs a shower. It smells like hard work, determination, commitment, and doing something with your whole heart, something he loves, and in which he finds unadulterated joy.

Now, I’m not sports obsessed. Nor am I a laundry slave to my 10-year-old. 🙂 But here’s the connection-

I think that God is a little like me opening the sweaty smelly laundry bag, when we offer our prayers up to Him. Lately God has gotten not just my prayers, but my blotchy, red face, heart’s cry prayers. He’s gotten my bottom of the pit, arms raised, seeking rescue prayers. He’s gotten my broken heart, life crashing down around me prayers. He’s gotten my frightened small voice in the middle of the night prayers.

It gives me comfort to know that, to Him, these prayers are a beautiful thing, like incense rising before Him…the sweet, sweaty smell of my precious, difficult, sojourning life on this planet. He collects my tears in an bottle. He calls my struggle “good”, when I can not. Then He turns it into something better than good.

What sweaty work have you been doing? What determined struggle do you see in your own life? From parenting wee ones and big ones, slogging through the work of grief, finding two more dollars to be able to make the utility bills, caregiving for a beloved aged member of the congregation, serving in a role that you don’t love, to loving those who seem unlovable. That’s all sweaty work.

And He loves our sweaty prayers.

May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.     

Psalm 141:2

As for my sweaty, smelly, precious hockey player. He’s equally embarrassed and loves it when I pray over him before each hockey game. 🙂