Editor's note: So many of you have written to ask me about my sons and their sports experiences, that I decided the best way to respond would be a series of articles. This is the first.
My husband, Joe, and I are big fans of theologian J. I. Packer. We own numerous copies and editions of his classic work Knowing God. In 1981, Joe and I lived in Andover, Massachusetts, for one year. When we found out that Dr. Packer was a professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary, only an hour from our home, we made plans to go hear him speak. I don't remember much about the lecture we heard-I don't even remember the title or topic; but I do remember his humble demeanor, and I will never forget the story he told.
Twenty years have come and gone since hearing the story, and I will try to convey it correctly. Some of the details may be incorrect, but I vividly remember the moral of the story. It seems that Dr. Packer came from a family of modest means, and every year for Christmas he would get one special gift. One year during his boyhood he decided he wanted a bicycle for Christmas more than anything else in the world. He said he started months in advance lobbying for the bike. He could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve in anticipation of riding the bike he knew he was going to receive.
Finally Christmas morning arrived. He bounded into the living room, where his excitement quickly dissipated into disappointment. To his horror, the long-awaited bicycle was, in reality, a typewriter. He didn't want a typewriter; he wanted a bicycle. He was heartbroken.
Dr. Packer ended the story of the bicycle and the typewriter by providing his audience with the moral: a bicycle would have eventually rusted or broken and been forgotten, but God used Packer's typewriter to change lives around the world through his writings. How often we pray for a bicycle, but God, thankfully, gives us a typewriter instead.
My two sons, Ty and John, are now twenty-three and twenty years old, and both are gifted athletes. Growing up, they participated in every sport known to mankind. As they reached their teenage years, they both played on classic (traveling) soccer teams and continued to play basketball and baseball on the side. From the time Ty was in the ninth grade, hardly a season passed without a coach from an area public or private school calling to ask if I would put the boys in school so one of them could play for his team. (South Carolina is not one of the many states that allow home schoolers to participate in public school activities.)
The boys really wanted to play high school ball, and because I was their mother-and wanted them to have what they wanted-I wanted them to be able to play on high school teams, where the level of play exceeds that of recreational teams. They not only wanted the challenge and excitement, but they also wanted the exposure to increase their chances for college scholarships.
When Ty reached the tenth grade, it became agonizingly clear that, barring unforeseen miracles, he would probably not be able to play high school ball. As a home-schooling mother, this was extremely difficult for me. We decide to home school our children to give them the best, not to deprive them of what they want the most. In retrospect, I think the boys' inability to play high school ball was harder for my husband and me than it was for them.
During the fall of Ty's tenth grade year, we began to pray seriously that God would open up an avenue of interest for him to fill the void left by not being able to play high school ball. In January of 1995, Senator Warren Giese hired Ty to serve as a page in the South Carolina State Senate. Ty kept this job for three years. Then in April of his senior year, he was selected to serve as a page in Washington, D.C., for Senator Strom Thurmond. Other opportunities, including Presidential Scholars Classroom, TeenPact, and Boys State, materialized.
In spite of these opportunities, Ty's desire to play high school ball did not ebb. In 1996, Ty's junior year, we pursued Equal Access Legislation in South Carolina, designed to give eligible, home-schooled students the opportunity to participate in public school, extra-curricular activities. In spite of valiant and sustained efforts by many parents, the legislation failed to pass the General Assembly. We were all sorely disappointed over this defeat, knowing that this was, in fact, the last hoorah for the time being. Ty took the defeat like a man, which is more than I can say for myself. He came to terms with his disappointment and moved on.
One morning during the week of Ty's high school graduation (June, 1997), we sat at the kitchen table and reminisced about the many ups and downs of our home-schooling journey which began in 1984. We talked about his internships, travel opportunities, service and ministry projects, and the closeness of our family. We also talked about the hard times and disappointments, the jail threats, court cases, and legislative battles we had faced. We inevitably reached the topic of high school athletics, and Ty reminded me of our prayers in his tenth grade year to replace high school sports with another opportunity.
At that moment, God reminded me of J. I. Packer and his typewriter. Until then I had completely forgotten the story. As I related Packer's Christmas story to Ty, I realized that we had been praying for sports, but God had given Ty politics instead. Ty had many life-changing experiences in high school that he would have never had if he had been tied to the demanding schedule of a high school soccer team. (And in spite of Ty's inability to play high school sports, he went to college on a soccer scholarship-as did his brother John. I'll tell that story in another article.)
The real point of this story is not to tell you about Ty, but to encourage you in your own home-schooling pilgrimage. None of us have perfect children or perfect families. We all suffer differing levels of heartache and disappointments. Sometimes limitations and closed doors in the lives of our children and our families can be very disheartening; yet God can turn our trials into triumphs and our mourning into joy. He can do abundantly more for our children than we can ask or think. He can work all things-even the hard things-together for good. He can even turn bitter disappointments into blessings.
Remember Joseph's words in Genesis when he spoke of being sold into slavery by his brothers: "They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." As you contemplate the trials and disappointments in your own life, remember that, in the grand scheme of things, typewriters can be abundantly more exciting and fulfilling than bicycles.
Zan Tyler is the editor of the HomeSchool Channel for Crosswalk.com and the co-author of the book Anyone Can Homeschool. She and her husband, Joe, home schooled their two sons from kindergarten through high school and are still home schooling their ninth-grade daughter.