Here's a story about the quirks and glories of church life featuring Hayden Daily, an unlikely college basketball star.
Hayden liked getting to service early. For one thing, the stillness of the sanctuary cleared his mind from college exams. Too, he always felt asense of anticipation as he watched God’s people gather. He slid into a pew and knelt to pray.
After a few minutes Hayden stood up. He loved greeting the older folks who also came early – his “grandmothers and grandfathers”, he called them in his mind. He never knew his own grandparents, and these folks filled something in him he didn’t have a word for.
As Hayden chatted with the Dwyers more people entered. Then she came in. A newcomer. She was beautiful, and he knew almost from the moment she entered the sanctuary that he wouldn't be able to worship that day. His heart, which usually lifted out of his chest by the second verse of the first song, was now being pulled across the pews in her direction. He knew he ought not to look – his face was sure to betray him. He chastised himself as he often did for not being smoother and not being able to conceal his emotions. Everyone always said how being vulnerable was actually attractive for a man, but that was easy for them to say; people were generally cavalier about other people’s vulnerability. The fact remained that moments like this pained him. It felt to Hayden like there was a microphone on his feelings and they were being blasted over the sanctuary speakers for everyone's amusement.
The band and pastor had come in and now people were making announcements. “My aunt’s neighbor’s cat in Tuscaloosa is having surgery Tuesday”, someone was saying, “and I’d like prayer for that”. You can’t be serious, thought Hayden.
Next Elder Andrews stood up. “The fundraiser for our trip to Afghanistan is this Friday. The coffee and the music are free, but the water purifier is not. We need your generosity, everyone. We need $5,000 – a whole village is depending on us”. For a moment Hayden forget about the action across the sanctuary. I need to get that on my calendar. Wait, what am I thinking? I’m free EVERY Friday night.
More announcements. The couples group, the soup kitchen, the next bible study. Then the greeting of peace. I'll slyly head over her way, Hayden thought. He took a few hesitant steps in her general direction, but suddenly WHAM -- he'd been grabbed from behind by a very short person. It was Gertie – Gertie Hardnock. He braced himself for the latest medical report.
“Oo, the arthritis bin killin’ me all week”, said Gertie as she extended her cheek for a kiss. “Peace be with you”, offered Hayden. He gave her a sweet kiss and she smiled and wrapped him in a headlock. While his cheek was wedged between Gertie’s neck and shoulder, Hayden saw Davis swooping toward the pretty visitor. Service was already starting the service, but Davis was not to be denied. He’s not only better-looking than me, he’s also bolder, thought Hayden. Sighing, he tried to direct his thoughts toward God as worship began.
Service ended. Davis was already next to the new woman, and Hayden realized it would be bad form for her to be thronged by single men in church. After all, he told himself, some people actually come to church to worship.
“She’s too pretty for you”, said Gertie abruptly. Hayden roused. “What? What do you mean?”, he said quickly, feeling a little naked. Gertie was not known for subtlety. "You heard me. And you’re too, oh, you're too NICE. One of these days you gotta stop being so darn scared.”
Hayden felt a twinge of irritation. Gertie had struck a nerve.
“Don’t worry”, continued Gertie with superb tactlessness, “being good isn’t so bad. Besides, the girl you really want’s bin right under your nose all this time ”.
“Really?”, said Hayden, too interested to be affronted. “And who might that be?”
“Me, of course”, laughed Gertie as she pulled him close for a hug. Hayden laughed out loud and remembered that this woman was also very beautiful.
At basketball practice Monday afternoon Coach made a surprise announcement. “James can’t play in tomorrow night’s game. The doofus is flunking geology”. Coach grimaced and turned to Hayden. “You’re starting at guard, Hayden”.
Hayden felt his stomach turn to ice. Other players muttered in protest. “Can’t you bail James out, Coach?”, one of them was saying. A surge of heat moved through Hayden. “Think I can’t handle it, chucklehead?”, shot Hayden.
The whole team gaped. This was not the Hayden they knew. At just under six feet, Hayden was far from a dominator. He was quick, had a 3-point shot, and had springs on his shoes, but Hayden had never put it all together on the floor. But the sound in his voice stopped their protest.
“Guess we’ll see, won’t we Hayden”, said Coach.
Hayden should have been more nervous. He’d never started for his college team before. But at game time what he felt was more like… like joy, of all things. He felt it surging through him. As the team lined up in the locker room to come out onto the court, a he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Charles.
“I prayed for you, man”.
Hayden’s eyes locked on his. He never knew Charles prayed. But before he could reply the team was moving onto the court, and a shout from the crowd swallowed his reply.
The starters took their positions on court. Hayden looked at his man. Tattoos everywhere, and a nose-ring. Attitude just oozed from the guy. Hayden looked away, then felt himself pushed off balance. His man had bumped him – a psyche-out. And to Hayden’s surprised, he heard himself laughing out loud in reply.
The ball went up. It was smacked to Hayden’s man. But Hayden saw where it was going and grabbed it first. In two dribbles he ran right at the defending forward, almost a full foot taller than him, then faked to his left and dropped under his arm. He launched quickly and laid the ball laid up easily on the backboard. Two points.
Coach swiftly called a full-court press, and as the opposing team in-bounded Hayden once again knew exactly where the ball was going. He was there first and wrested it from the tattoos. He spun, jumped backward to avoid two sets of hands, and arced it. All net.
This was getting fun.
On his team’s next possession Hayden found himself bringing the ball up the court. Sur-prisingly, Coach didn’t object. As Hayden drove toward the hoop two defenders came up on him – leaving Jeff open under the basket. Hayden flashed a pass behind his back to Jeff, who slammed it home. From then on, in Hayden’s mind the game was never in doubt. Final score: 88-69. Hayden scored 21 and added 8 assists.
Not bad for never starting before.
Bible study was crowded that Wednesday night. The on-campus group usually wasn’t large, but word about the game had gotten out and now people who were only vaguely interested in Christ suddenly wanted a look at the new starting player who also led a bible study. Part of Hayden objected to the flattery, but as people slapped him on the back, Hayden grinned and realized that part of him…didn’t.
Hayden cleared his throat. “All right, church geeks, let’s get started. Tonight we’ll pick up with Paul’s journey to – “. But then someone walked in. Someone with a lot of gold hair.
It was her. Her.
continued next week