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I’m back!   There has been a longing the last few days to set down and write! Just write!  Writing is therapy for me.  Working out the inner struggles and battles raging in my mind, putting on paper the truths God is revealing in my life and hopefully encouraging others who might need to know others struggling with life as well.

 This post is no different. Today is a therapy day.  What I write may not be relevant in your life. Perhaps some of it will, some of it won’t…yet for me I have to get these thoughts wrote out.

 Twenty-seven years ago, my husband Jim was a young college graduate.  He had excelled in college sports as both an All-American Football and Track athlete.  He had traveled extensively including overseas, participating in football.  For a period of time, it seemed he would spend his 20’s and 30’s playing professional football.  However, God’s plan didn’t include pro-ball in Jim’s life. Tearing his hamstring in the final 40 yard dash at the Denver Gold tryouts, dissolved that dream.  However, it didn’t end his love for the game.

 So, in the brisk fall days when the pro players were beginning strength and conditioning, Jim was doing the same. Only at a different level and position.  Instead of running the ball down the field himself, he was starting a life-long career as a high school/junior high school coach.

 At times, it seems like yesterday. We were in a new community, Jim learning his students/athletes names and teaching them offensive and defensive plays. For me, I was learning how to live “behind the bench.”    

I didn’t understand the X’s and O’s of the game.  Although, Jim did try to teach me more than once! X’s and O’s have always been hugs and kisses to me, not offensive or defensive players.  None the less, I may not have fully understood the game. I did understand the coach.

As a young coach’s wife, I recognized his competitive nature. While I saw the competition as “only” a game.  He saw it as so much more!  So much more for his athletes, not himself.  Remember he had been on the other side of the ball.  He knew what the kids left on the field after every game. Jim realized what they would take into life from the endless practices, the hard fought games and more importantly, the words of encouragement from “Coach.” 

I began to realize his love for the game wasn’t as strong as his love for his student/athletes.  Even twenty-seven years ago, he shared with me his love and concern for his “kids.” He listened for weeks to a young man dealing with his folks divorce.  He refereed at recess when the school bully picked on a timid new student.  He wept at the grave of more than one of his athlete’s whose lives were cut short by a tragic accident. 

Observing from “behind the bench,” revealed a coach who stood at the finish line and congratulated the athlete, whether he finished first or last.  You see, Jim realizes the value of kids isn’t determined by their place in the race.  His student/athletes know that. They know “Coach Smith” loves them not because they are an outstanding athlete, but because they are an awesome teen!     

As believer in Jesus Christ, probably more than anything.  Jim tried to live out his faith to his “kids.” Not in a holier-than-thou attitude or wearing the mask of perfection.  But in walking out the daily struggles and temptations of life. There were times in the heat of the moment that Coach got angry, more than once he got called into the office for hollering at a referee. But in the end, Coach always did what was right. Right for his team! But more importantly, right in the sight of God.  

This week, Coach is saying goodbye to his place on the sidelines. This coach’s wife is closing the chapter on living “behind the bench.” This is not something Jim has chosen, but something God has allowed.  That is the hazards of this profession!  By the vote of a raised hand, board members determine the outcome of a coach’s career.  They might determine the outcome of his career in this community.  However, God determines the outcome of his life. 

In saying goodbye, we reflect on what is left behind. Jim’s influence has been significant in a number of athlete’s lives. Through the years, Coach received letters, phone calls, and unexpected visits from athletes whose lives have been positively impacted by this man’s support. I have no doubt this will continue. In fact, I know Jim’s influence will go into eternity. 

Ray Boltz has a song titled, “Thank you for giving to the Lord.”  In the lyrics, it talks about an individual who meets people in heaven whose lives were changed because of the influence of that individual. My belief is that once Coach enters those pearly gates, athletes/students will line up to thank him for “giving to the Lord.”  Thanking Coach Smith for the role he played in influencing their life!

From “behind the bench,” I thank you Coach! For the years of loyalty given to this district, for the 27+ years of love and encouragement you breathed into those kids who needed a kind word and soft heart.  Most importantly Coach, I honor and respect you for your honesty! Honestly, some can’t understand and some are afraid to face. More  than anything you have coached or taught, this truth will reach into eternity!

 I love you,