BAKER MAYFIELD’S IMPOSSIBLE DREAM

 

hi-res-02a69cff4047e59f556c0d6d2d282ac0_crop_northIf you have known me for any length of time at all, you know that I am a huge Oklahoma Sooner football fan, and this year especially, an even bigger Baker Mayfield fan. I just love watching that kid play football. He plays with so much joy and enthusiasm…it’s contagious. I even like that he plays with moxie, swagger, and a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. And talent! He has a serious arm. Can we just go ahead and start working on a new statue for OU’s Heisman Plaza?

So I was listening to an interview he was doing recently and something he said really resonated with me. He said he just believes in himself. And the way he said it was not arrogant or narcissistic. He was just stating a fact. He believes in himself. He just doesn’t accept “no.” He has audacity.

When people told him he was too small to be a quarterback (and he was!), he just kept on throwing bullets. When he showed up for football practice as a Lake Travis freshman, he was only 5”2” and barely 100 pounds. But he had an arm and he had a belief in himself. Even after leading his team to a state championship as a senior, he still got little respect. He wasn’t what the big colleges would consider Division 1 quarterback material. No scholarship? No problem. I’ll just walk on. Win the starting position, but still no scholarship? I’ll walk on somewhere else. Maybe 14-year old Baker Mayfield dreamed of winning a Heisman, but I imagine no one else could see it within his reach at that time. In psychology we call that self-efficacy, and it’s a healthy quality to possess.

Psychologist Albert Bandura has spent much of his career researching how people are able to shape their own futures through human agency, the belief in their own capabilities to produce desired effects by their actions. It is the understanding that I have some degree of control in obtaining a desired outcome and preventing an undesired one.

People with self-efficacy are quick to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and they find ways to get around obstacles. Baker Mayfield had a big obstacle to get around at Oklahoma. Starting quarterback Trevor Knight had led the Sooners in an “impossible” victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl just a few weeks before Mayfield made his decision to come to Oklahoma. People thought he was crazy. He would have no chance to start. But he just refused to listen to the naysayers, to accept the impossibility of his dream.

Self-efficacy is not the same thing as self-esteem. My sense of self worth is different and independent of my abilities. For example, I can’t dance. I’d love to be able to, but I look like an ironing board with feet on the dance floor. No rhythm. But the fact that I can’t dance does not change my value as a person.

One of the problems I see in my psychology practice is the ways in which people relinquish control over their lives. And they do this without realizing it. I hear it all the time. “I can’t be okay unless Person X does Thing Y.” She needs to apologize. He must stop drinking. They must like and accept me. Maybe all these things should happen, but the reality is they might not. We have no control over the actions of others. We only have control over our own thoughts and behaviors. Waiting for someone else to take some action in order for us to be happy is giving away our power. It is putting our happiness and well being squarely in the hands of someone else.

Then there are some people who have no sense of self-efficacy. “I could never do that.” Maybe someone has told them that or maybe someone has always done things for them. It’s learned helplessness. But just because you have never done it before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you haven’t done it yet.

For me, as a Christian, my sense of self-efficacy begins with my faith in Jesus. That sounds contradictory on its face. Self-efficacy is not the same as self-reliance. I’m totally reliant on Jesus Christ, but I believe He will equip me to do what He calls me to do. When I am walking by faith I am not weighed down by personal doubt and by the “what ifs.” Yes, Jesus still performs miracles, He still delivers. But more often He commands me to take up my mat and walk. And being able to take up my mat and walk is a miracle in itself. The same grace that saved me equips and enables me. So maybe a better term for Believers is spiritual efficacy, the belief that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13).

So as I’m writing about Baker Mayfield, I’m remembering another guy who was too small and too young to kill a giant. He didn’t command a lot of respect. But he believed in his ability. He had been training for this day his entire young life. And most importantly he believed in his God. You know how the story goes. Against all odds, David killed the giant with just a slingshot and a stone.

How big are your giants? Maybe God has been preparing you for just this moment. You can do this! How big is your God? With Him, nothing is impossible.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jer. 32:27.

 

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” 2 Cor. 3:5.

 

ALL THE LAWS WE CANNOT KEEP

 

It happened on our last vacation. We were somewhere in Wyoming I think, driving through some tiny little town. Jerry looked in the rear view mirror and saw the flashing lights no one wants to see. We were getting pulled over. “Were we speeding?” the four of us wondered. Maybe we were getting stopped for something else. We were in a rental car with Colorado plates. Maybe they were expired. The officer took his time getting out of his car, strode up to Jerry’s window and bellowed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING SPEEDING THROUGH MY TOWN?” Wow. What a bully! It didn’t feel like we were speeding. It was such a small town we didn’t even remember seeing a sign.

 

He was talking to Jerry, saying a few more things that I couldn’t hear so I lowered my window. Big mistake. “PUT THAT WINDOW BACK UP!” Yikes! I immediately complied but the officer kept glaring at me. It crossed my mind that he might pull out a gun and shoot me. Much later I realized that he might have thought the same thing about me. Law enforcement officers never know when a routine stop might turn deadly. But I didn’t know the rule about not lowering the window. And don’t shout at me!

 

He went back to his patrol car to write the ticket while we were all wondering how big the ticket was going to be. I just knew he was going to stick it to us since we were out-of-towners. None of us could believe it when he walked back to the car and gave us a mere warning. His whole demeanor had changed. Now he’s a walking ad for the Chamber of Commerce. What was all that bullying and

blustering about? I guess he decided to show us mercy.

 

I k now there are people who have driven their entire lives without ever getting a ticket. I’m not one of them. I don’t intend to, I just occasionally break the law. Just the other day I accidentally ran a red light. Yikes! I’m lucky it didn’t happen at a busy intersection. I just spaced out; I didn’t mean to run it.

 

The reason I am writing about this is because our small group at church has been studying the book of Exodus and discussing the Ten Commandments. At first glance most of us can feel pretty self-righteous about those commandments. They seem pretty simple. Don’t kill. Check. Don’t commit adultery. I’m good on that one. I remember years ago seeing a cartoon of a man and a woman who was probably his wife leaving church where the sermon title, “The Ten Commandments” was posted at the door. The man was saying to his wife, “At least I haven’t made any graven images.”

Here’s the thing. When you read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, you realize you have probably broken most if not all of them. Have I committed murder? No. But I’ve said unkind things about others, murdered their reputation and assassinated their character. Have I ever told a lie? We call them white lies to make it sound better. I remember cheating on a spelling test in the seventh grade (I got caught). I stole someone else’s answer. I still feel bad about that. What we see on prime time television would have been called pornography not so many years ago. And those graven images? We still have them. Big houses, fancy degrees, our 401Ks. While there is nothing wrong with those things, if we see in them security and fulfillment they become graven images. God wants us to trust Him alone for our security and fulfillment, not our shares of Apple.

 

Our small group teacher asked us why the Ten Commandments were given and what relevance they have to us today. We came up with lots of answers, but for me, those commandments show me how desperately I need a savior. I can’t keep those laws. I want to keep them, and hopefully I do a better job than I did as a young woman, but I can’t keep them because I am a sinner. And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

 

I’m glad God knows my heart and He has provided a Way. That Way is Jesus. Here is the entirety of Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. I can’t get to God by keeping the Ten Commandments. So God in His great mercy sent a Savior to come down to me and pay the price of my sins.

 

If you read a little further in the book of Exodus you will see that the Israelites were instructed to build a tabernacle. And in that tabernacle they were to place a box called The Ark of the Covenant. Inside that box, they placed the stone tablets, the Ten Commandments. But the beautiful part of the story is that God told them to put a gold lid on the box. This was called the mercy seat, the place where God declares, “There I will meet with you.” God’s mercy covering God’s laws. Such a beautiful picture of Jesus. He knew we couldn’t keep those laws, so in His mercy He sent His Son. Christ is our mercy seat! And through Him, we can meet with God.

HOW DID WE GET HERE SO SOON?

 

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He was arguably the cutest and most popular boy in the ninth grade. He was one of those guys who was the whole package: good-looking, well liked, really nice, popular, athletic, and a real leader. One of the unattainable boys. He only dated the prettiest and most popular girls, because he could.

 

I went to a different school the next year and really haven’t thought much about him since. We were only casual friends and didn’t stay in touch. I heard he married his high school sweetheart, but other than that I never knew what happened in his life. So why was it such a gut check when I heard he passed away last week?

 

I keep thinking of the lines from the John Donne poem, “…any man’s death diminishes me.” Is that it? Of course any man’s death should diminish me. Really, the death of any creature is sad. I was reading in my quiet time this morning about how God cares for the sparrows and how He knows when even one of them falls to the ground. Jerry and I were pondering over our coffee about whether there will be sparrows in Heaven. I hope so. But I don’t think that is really what is troubling me. It’s the last line of the poem that is bothering me, the line about the bell tolling for me. And it’s not bothering me in the way Donne was intending, that when one of us dies a little piece of each of us dies. No, the part that bothers me is that my day is coming, the day when the bell will actually toll for me. And here is the crux of what bothers me. It feels way too soon!

 

It’s not that I am afraid to die, although I expect that if we are honest all of us are at least a little bit afraid. After all this is uncharted territory. We’ve never done it before. But as a Christian I know that when I die I will go immediately to be with Jesus, and I believe my eternal life will be wonderful beyond comprehension. What bothers me is that I have reached an age where death is not shocking. When one of my peers dies, no one says any more, “Oh she was too young to die.” Death is expected or at least accepted as normal for my age group. Where is the “rage against the dying of the light” that Dylan Thomas wrote about in “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.”

 

Here’s the thing. This time of life has gotten here too soon! Ecclestases 3:2 tells us there is a time to be born and a time to die. I know that God’s timing is perfect but I’m not ready to leave this planet yet. The space between birth and where I am now seems so brief. Twenty years used to seem like a long time but now it goes by in the blink of an eye. Today we are celebrating the 11th birthday of a baby girl who was just born yesterday! Those 11 years went by in a whoosh!

 

How is it that my peers are dying off? My ninth grade memories don’t seem that far distant. I still carry a little of my 14-year old self. I don’t feel all that old! It seems that I hear of the death of a classmate almost every week now. We baby boomers are keeping that tolling bell busy, and that seems like an atrocity to me. I, for one, am raging against it! I’m not going gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

 

BELIEVING LIKE A CHILD

 

We have been blessed with three children and nine grandchildren. One of the joys for us as parents has been providing Christmas for everyone. At our house we enjoyed the fantasy of Santa Claus until our girls grew old enough to know that Mom and Dad are really Santa. And our grandchildren have enjoyed this same magical belief. I understand that not everyone incorporates Santa into their Christmas celebrations, but we have always had fun with it.

A few years ago, when granddaughter Emma was only about five or six years old, she wanted a puppy for Christmas. My daughter and son-in-law were very busy with a young household of four children at the time, and didn’t think they needed the extra work involved with a puppy. A trip to see Santa was coming up so they were trying to prepare Emma for the fact that Santa was NOT going to bring a puppy. “Well, Santa needs to have your parents’ permission for a puppy and besides he may think you are not ready for a puppy.”

Emma seemed to accept this, and told her mom she was going to ask for an American Girl Doll instead. Good choice. What none of us knew was that Emma, who is a really smart little girl, planned an end run around her parents, and was going to wait until she got on Santa’s lap to ask for a puppy. Much to my daughter’s shock and dismay, Santa said yes! “But Santa (wink, wink), don’t you have to talk to Mom and Dad before you agree to a puppy,” my daughter asked. “No. If she wants a puppy she can have a puppy.” All the adults stared at Santa in disbelief. Did he just say she could have a puppy??? Emma left that visit a happy girl, confident that on Christmas morning she would have a puppy. And guess what? She did.

So fast-forward to this year. The grands are all older and we only have one left who still believes, and she believes in a BIG way! We were all together the other night watching football when I heard 7-year old Olivia say she was asking Santa for a Disney cruise for the whole family. Wow! That’s a big ask! Again, I heard my daughter explaining that Santa was probably not going to do that. “But Mom! Why do you have to be so negative? Santa can do this!” Gulp.

Wouldn’t it be great to believe like that? This morning in my quiet time I was reading from A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. In discussing how to talk with our Father, Miller says that we must come to him like a child, confident of His love and power. “We must enter the world of a child, where all things are possible.” We must have the same childlike faith Olivia has.

In my studies on prayer I learned a new word, importunate or importunity. I learned that God loves it when we pray with importunity. Importunate prayers are like the pleas of the persistent widow in Luke 18. She kept coming before the corrupt judge, asking for justice. Eventually she wore him out with her constant pleas. Jesus encourages us to pray like that widow. If an unjust judge will eventually answer a request, how much more willing is a loving and just heavenly Father? Our God is perfect and does not change, nor does He need to change. Importunate prayers change us, they help us grow as Believers.

Occasionally during Christ’s time on earth, He encountered people who had Olivia’s childlike faith, believing that He could do all things, answer all prayers. I’m thinking about the Roman centurion who believed Jesus could heal his servant without even coming to his home. “But say the word and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7).   Jesus practically shouts at us to pray like in that way, to pray with importunity, to come to Him believing that all things are possible. I am not suggesting that we should approach God like some cosmic Santa Claus or heavenly ATM machine. But we must come to Him with the faith that He loves us, knows what is best for us, and has the power to do all things.

I have found when I pray with importunity, prayer changes me, not God. I enter my pleas to ask of God, but He invariably asks of me. When I pray with importunity, I get onboard with what God is trying to do in my life and the lives of those I pray for. This morning I have a rare empty schedule. I’m thinking God wants to get my attention about something. So I pray.

 

LESSONS FROM THE LEAVES

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Last fall Jerry and I took an autumn foliage trip in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. We were lucky to go before the devastating and deadly fires destroyed more than 16,000 acres along with the charming bead and breakfast we enjoyed. While we were leaf peeping I think I must have pointed out every tree to Jerry, each one seeming more beautiful than the last. And to his credit, he pulled over and let me take pictures of almost every tree in the forest! It was hard to choose just one of my photos to go with this blog, but I love this one! It’s like God took a paintbrush to the world. The beauty of autumn passes so quickly; if we don’t stop and look, we might miss it. I wanted to take a time out and enjoy the leaves at their peak. I found a quote by gardener Elizabeth Lawrence that expresses my feelings: “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”

 

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the botany I studied many years ago. I remembered that the changing color of leaves has to do with photosynthesis, chlorophyll, and glucose. During the summer, the trees are working hard converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into sugar. The leaves are green because of an abundance of chlorophyll. But as days get shorter and cooler trees begin to store nutrients in their roots so they will be able to leaf out again in the spring. As they store up the last of the chlorophyll, we begin to see the vibrant colors that were present all along.

 

Why are there so many different colors? Each color is a provision from God, protecting its specific type of tree from damage caused by exposure to sunlight while the leaves are breaking down. Even the dead leaves play a roll in autumn’s drama. They fall to the forest floor, decompose, and provide vital nutrients necessary for reforestation. There is no collateral waste in God’s economy.

 

Why is it necessary for leaves to fall? As I looked closely at the leaves that were still on their trees, I could see that most of them were in bad shape. Summer’s heat, storms, and insects had taken a toll. If they remained, the tree would need to use its vital energy store to sustain them. And trees need that energy reserve in order to produce buds next spring. In late fall and early winter, those remaining leaves become little vessels to trap heave wet snow and ice. Even a quarter inch of ice can bring down huge trees.

 

The changing leaves remind us of the changing seasons of our own lives. We will not always be in a season of sowing and reaping, of working and receiving a paycheck. We must store up a savings so that we will be able to survive the winter of our lives. There will not always be time to do those things we are called to do. We must complete our earthly mission while it is still summer. Autumn reminds me that I am running out of options, of do-overs and revisits. And only a finite amount of time remains for that bucket list of mine.

 

But the falling leaves also remind us of the necessity of letting go. In some cases it is merely a matter of accepting the losses we cannot control: our beauty, our youth, and our physical strength. For some autumn brings a loss of health or a loss of memory. We may lose a spouse or another close family member. We will surely lose friends along our autumn journey. There is an anonymous quote about autumn: “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” We need to let go of superfluous things, those things that keep us moored to earth. If our hands are full, how can we receive? And just as trees must release dead leaves, so we must let go of the dead. We must quit using our life-giving resources to dead situations and relationships.

 

During one day of our trip, we were showered with gilded birch leaves, falling from above like golden coins from God. This beautiful day was a perfect gift to me and I will store it in my heart to remember when winter comes.

 

“…Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.”  Jer. 5:24

PLANTING THE FLAG

 

 

Wow! You can’t turn on a sports talk show (Yes, I listen to them!), or read the sports page this week without someone weighing in on Baker Mayfield. As everyone probably knows by now, Oklahoma went on the road and delivered a 31-16 win on No. 2 Ohio State’s home turf. NOBODY thought OU could win this one. It was an emotional win, especially after the embarrassing beat down OU received from Ohio State last year. The most crushing moment for the players came after that game when the Ohio state players sang their alma mater on Owen Field in Norman after routing the Sooners 45-24. Last Saturday the karma train came to Columbus and Baker Mayfield was driving.  After helping deliver a signature win for Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield took a victory lap carrying the Sooner flag and planting it in the center of the Ohio state field. Well, you can’t really plant a flag into artificial turf, but the gesture created quite a controversy.

 

Almost everyone has weighed in on this act. Never mind that the country has been dealing with two devastating hurricanes. It was disrespectful and he should apologize (he did). Or, he just plays with emotion and a good-sized chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t need to apologize. That’s what makes him Baker Mayfield.

 

Being a die-hard Sooner fan and one who loves to watch Baker Mayfield play, I didn’t have a problem with it. It was a BIG, exciting win for OU, and Mayfield had a spectacular night. And after all, it IS just football. (I can hardly believe I just wrote those words!) Besides, most of the Ohio State fans had long left the stadium by the end of the game. The apology? No doubt someone older and wiser told him it might be prudent to smooth ruffled feathers. Especially since the two teams might have to play each other again in the playoffs.

 

It seems like a tempest in a teapot to me. But it got me to thinking about flag planting and why we don’t do it more often. What does it mean, to plant a flag? The obvious answer is that the flag represents a victory. I think about the iconic flag that was raised over Iwo Jima, or planting a flag at the summit of a mountain. It also signifies a claim of ownership as when early explorers came to the New World and claimed land for England or Spain. In medieval times, a feudal lord had a flag with his coat of arms. Vassals pledged their loyalty to the lord and swore to fight for him while the lord pledged to protect the vassal. The flag was carried into battle to serve as a rallying point. If a soldier was separated from his fellow soldiers, he could look up and find the flag. And finally, a flag is a symbol of our identity. There are flags to represent countries, cities, faiths, families, and organizations.

 

Sidebar: I’ve thought so much about flags since Saturday I’m beginning to feel like Sheldon Cooper playing Fun With Flags. But I digress.

 

On a serious note, when I think about victory and ownership in my own life, I think of Jesus. In our worship service last Sunday, our pastor kept driving home the point that the battle has already been won. So why don’t we plant the flag? Jesus has won the battle over sin. I can plant the flag on that! The battle has been won over every temptation I will ever face. I need to plant the flag as a reminder to myself. He has defeated death. He is victorious over Satan and every evil of this world. Despots may raise flags but the flag of our Savior is superior. The lyrics of the great hymn Onward Christian Soldiers speak of the royal banners of Christ going before us in battle.  

 

There is a song that has been stuck in my head since Saturday night. It is the song children sing at church. The words go something like this: “Oh there’s a flag flown high o’er the castle of my heart for the king is in residence there.” The flag tells the world, “The king is here.” I hope my flag is raised high for all to see. If it isn’t, the problem is with me. In the UK, Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard is raised over her palace or castle telling the world that she is in residence. Furthermore, I read that the banner of the monarch of England is never at half-mast, because the monarchy continues even after the death of a king.

 

The royal banner of Christ will never be at half-mast. I can plant His flag firmly wherever I am because He is in residence in my heart.

 

GRATEFUL

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I awakened this morning with a heart full of gratitude.  I was immediately grateful when my feet hit the floor.  I wasn’t standing in dirty flood water.  I was grateful there isn’t a Cat 5 hurricane bearing down on me and my family.  Even though we have earthquakes in Oklahoma, I’m grateful we haven’t experienced an 8.1, followed by a tsunami.  I could walk outside in the cool morning air and not smell the smoke from the fires that are destroying our west.  I was grateful that a lunatic in North Korea hasn’t unleashed a hydrogen bomb on humanity.  I was also grateful for the small things.  The air conditioner that ran all night, lights that came on when I hit the switch, a working coffee pot, and dry clothes in my closet.  I was grateful for the food in my refrigerator and the fuel in my gas tank.  Grateful.

Then I immediately prayed.  Prayed for all of those who are suffering and struggling.  I prayed for one sister in Houston who still can’t get to her house except by wading through knee-deep flood waters, and for another sister who is stuck in traffic trying to get out of Florida.  They will be okay, but there are millions of others who are going to be  dealing with these disasters for years.  I think of the people of the Caribbean who live in third world conditions on a good day.  They are devastated.  I think of the people of Texas who live paycheck to paycheck (like most of America).  They need their jobs and might not have a job to go back to.  I pray for those who have lost loved ones, and for those who have lost their houses, cars, possessions, pets, and livestock.  For the school teacher who equipped her classroom at her own expense, and now is starting from nothing.

In spite of all these problems, I’m grateful to be an American.  We have seen the true American spirit in the last days and weeks, and we will see it again in Florida.  People who opened up their homes to strangers, men and women who left the comfort of home to go volunteer.  I’m grateful for the armada of small boats, rafts, and canoes that showed up to help people.  Grateful for the legitimate relief agencies that were all staged and ready to go, and for the overwhelming generosity of the rest of us who feel helpless.  Grateful for the churches that sprang into action.  And I’m so grateful to the people who took pity on the animals that have been affected by these disasters.

Most of all I am grateful for a God who is not caught off guard by any of this.  I can trust that He is a good God, whose purposes toward us are always redemptive.  I can rest in the knowledge that He is orchestrating people and events to bring about His purpose.  He holds the hearts of eveil despots in the palm of his hand.  I’m grateful that He is only a prayer away, that He is never closer than when we are afraid and suffering.I’m grateful that I can rely on His promises in good times and bad.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  Isaiah 43:2

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11