Mitchell Richards [Words]

Month: January, 2012

Belly Flops: A Fear of Heights

In 1999, my power tumbling team put on an exhibition with the US Olympic Diving team. We were doing our tumbling, trampoline, and double-mini trampoline routines, and they were doing their diving performances. It was a really cool experience and we actually got to spend a lot of time with them. They played around on our trampolines and they gave us some tips on diving. I even jumped off the 10-meter platform that tested my fear of heights. One of the divers we were performing with actually ended up winning the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In between two of our exhibitions, I was talking with one of the male divers, his name unfortunately escapes me, and I asked him if he ever got scared of jumping off of the 33-foot (10-meter) platform into water, which can feel like concrete if you hit it the wrong way. I expected him to say that every once in a while he would be scared, but he told me that if you go up to the platform scared that you have no business being up there at all. That if you’re scared, you’re already in the wrong frame of mind to succeed and the perfect frame of mind to fail.

Earlier, I said I have a fear of heights but it is really more of a fear of falling.

Years ago when I was a counselor at a church camp in Woodward, OK, I had idea to start a belly flop contest at our annual night-swim. It spawned from a story about a belly flop contest that I actually made up and used as an example to teach the students about laying it all on the line for Jesus or something really cheesy like that. Here is a video of the contest…

The tradition lived on for at least another two years after this that I am aware of. I think it is funny to note that all of this stemmed from what was a made up story that turned into something very real and very painfully beautiful.

But these kids lined up for belly flop after belly flop without questioning it. And for what? What was all of this for? There was no real prize involved.

I believe the kids put themselves through torture because they wanted to know what it felt like to experience sacrifice in a tangible way. All week at the camp, we had been talking about what it meant to give yourself away. Giving yourself away is a really good thought; every one usually wants to know what it feels like to sacrifice something for something bigger. These students, they didn’t want to think it anymore, they didn’t want sacrifice to be a dream or a cute idea, they wanted to feel it, and the results turned out to be amazing.

There is a part of risk that is rewarding, even if the risk will undoubtedly result in pain. The reward goes beyond life lessons and into something that happens in our hearts. With risk, there is a seemingly inevitable failure. I stood on top of that 10-meter platform, looking down at the water and could only imagine myself gliding through the air like a kid on a trapeze, tucking into a ball as I flip through the air, opening up as graceful as ever, only to belly flop on the surface of the water because I had no idea the pool was coming up so soon. At the top of the platform, all I could imagine was disaster.

But these kids in the belly flop contest, the result WAS disaster and they knew that going into it! How do you explain that?

Years ago, many years before the belly flop contest, my old youth pastor Dan taught me how to belly flop without it hurting much. It sounds dumb, but this little snippet of a lesson was really about something bigger. It was like Dan was telling me that the water is coming, it’s going to feel like concrete when you hit it, but here’s a way it won’t hurt as much. In life, this translates to failure is coming. Disaster is coming. Hard times are just a blink away. Death. Sickness. Trouble. Pain. It’s all coming. It’s all going to feel like concrete when you hit it. It is going to hurt like hell, but here’s a way that it wont hurt as bad.

The kids in the contest knew the pain that was involved in the contest, and they lined up around the pool regardless.

Life is coming at you, right now, and it is coming fast. Dan showed me a way to belly flop without it hurting much, but he also showed me the way to life that doesn’t hurt as much either. That way is Jesus. The way isn’t easy, and it is not comfortable, but His way is good. His burden is light, and he can comfort you in those times, through the inevitable pain ahead. If you follow His way, life is still going to hurt. Your belly will be red, and you will feel defeated, but if you continue in His way, He will give you rest and you will be victorious. So even though pain is inevitable, we must approach the edge without fear, for it is fear that puts us in the wrong frame of mind to succeed, and the perfect frame of mind to fail.


Tebow-mania: Why We Should Pray For Tim Tebow

I must start this post off by admitting that even though I am from Oklahoma and I am a male, I am not a huge football fan. To me, football is something I watch on Sundays as the first step in the process of taking my Sunday nap. Sure, I will will occasionally be interested in a game, cheer on my favorite universities, but other than that, I really don’t care much for it. I like hockey, soccer, and basketball quite a bit more. But I also do keep an eye out on football, and I usually have a general idea of the big picture of the season; like when the Cowboys aren’t having a good season, and some random rookie quarterback is torching some old pros. I’ll know the teams in the Super Bowl when they get there, but I can’t exactly remember who wins a couple of weeks after the big game.

But every once in a while, a figure comes along that you just have to pay attention to. Now, I actually hate it when the sports media falls in love with a player because of a couple of good games. I actually hate watching ESPN a lot because they are so wishy-washy. For example, is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook yell at one another during a game, they automatically jump to the extreme and say that Westbrook needs to be traded. Tiger Woods loses a bunch of golf tournaments and they automatically jump to the extreme that he will never win again, despite being one of the greatest golfers ever. In the same way, when a player or team does something well once or twice, the talking heads on TV take to the extreme and adorn the player or team with verbal crowns and fine jewels, praising him to be the next big thing. Take Michael Vick in the 2010-2011 season, the guy was untouchable. Everyone doubted that he would ever play again, much less play at a high level, much less lead a team into the playoffs. But then this last season happened. Vick was riddled with injury and the team failed to make the playoffs despite everyone picking them to be serious Super Bowl contenders. Every one was in love with Michael Vick last season, but this year, everyone hated him. ESPN was talking about how the Eagles need to trade him away even though they just signed him to a huge contract after his one great year.

Enter Tim Tebow.

Fresh out of the University of Florida, where he won a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy, Tebow was drafted by the Broncos, confusingly early a couple years ago in the draft. At Florida, Tebow kind of built up a reputation for being a solid Christian goody guy. I remember he wore those little eye-black stickers with scripture written on them in silver Sharpie. He would pray on the sidelines. He thanked God anytime the media interviewed him, which isn’t all that uncommon, but it just seemed different from Tebow. For the most part, Tebow really isn’t that great of a player, he does a lot of things decently well, but apparently when you scout NFL talent, you look for a lot of things that Tim Tebow doesn’t have. I’m not a scout, nor do I know much about football at all, but Tebow is a very flawed player. His throwing style is junky, he makes weird decisions that often work but are extremely unconventional.

This year, the Broncos started sucking right out of the gate, they lost a few games and someone made the decision that Tim Tebow should start playing. He had been sitting the bench for the most part up until this point. Once Tebow became the starting quarterback, the strangest thing happened…the Broncos started winning. Even though Tebow may not have been technically winning all of the games for the Broncos, on more than one occasion the ball was in his hands at the end of the game and he made the plays that made Denver win. There were so many close games, and just when you think the Broncos couldn’t possibly win, they would. I even watched a game where the announcer said late in the game that it was over, that there was no chance for the Broncos to win this game, but somehow they forced overtime and won. Yesterday, immediately after Tebow and the Broncos beat the Steelers in the playoffs in overtime, Tebow broke Twitter records being tweeted about over 9,000 times per second worldwide. More than when bin Laden was killed, more that when Michael Jackson died, more than the royal wedding, more than anything…ever.

Tim Tebow quickly became the subject on every segment of ESPN Sportcenter; you couldn’t turn on a TV or sports radio show without hearing about him. The weird thing was, after they criticized his playing ability, they often referred to God and Tebow’s spirituality. I’ve been known to make a Tebow joke a time or two in regards to his spirituality, and so has the media, but Tebow just kept winning games and people keep talking about his Christian faith more and more, even though it is relevant to the games. Even though Tebow might not have been the deciding factor in the game, people would be seriously questioning if Tebow winning was a result of his faith.

We see Tebow on the sideline down on one knee praying, and it sort of gets made into a joke, which I think is totally fine, even as a Christian. I think its funny that people take pictures of themselves on one knee and call it “Tebowing”. But as a Christian, and with Tim Tebow being, in all seriousness, the face of American Christianity right now (second to Jesus himself maybe), how do I really feel? Because…we’ve had these poster boys before, right? Remember Ted Haggard a few years ago? Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the PTL scandal in the 80’s and 90’s? Wasn’t Mel Gibson the perfect Christian years ago after making the Passion of the Christ movie? What happened there? The sad thing is, I can keep going. So when I see Tim Tebow supporting the weight of an entire religion on his shoulder pads, please forgive me but it scares me. Because I’ve been here before…and as a sports fan…I’ve totally bought in to Tebowmania.

I don’t expect Tebow to be perfect, on or off the field, but the media does. If one trivial thing came out about Tebow tomorrow, not only does Tebow get ridiculed, we Christians do too. But with more and more people talking about faith in areas where faith is seldom mentioned, how do we feel about this? How do we feel that a Christian football player might actually be called a Christian football player and not a football player who happens to be a Christian? I think Tebow would admit that the most important thing to him is his relationship with Jesus and that football is second. It saddens me to say, but there are a small percentage of people hoping that Tebow has some skeletons in his closet. People had the pretty boy perfectionist, and Tebow is sort of that guy, and that guy worships the same God I do.

So it weirds me out to say this…but…maybe we should be praying for Tim Tebow. The man is on every television right now, giving it up to God and Jesus, and instead of waiting around for some weird truth to come out, like some Dallas Cowboy cheerleader he knocked up or him sending some pictures of his junk to some female reporter, why shouldn’t we pray for him? Imagine your life under a microscope. Not just your job, but your personal life as well. What Tebow is doing right now transcends a game and gets people talking.

So no matter who you root for, which team is your favorite, and even if you hate Tim Tebow as a player, that guy is really being an instrument of the Lord right now, and so far he is doing awesome. He says the right things and he appears to be walking the walk, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support him in prayer. You don’t have to go out and buy a Tebow jersey; you don’t have to go out and declare that Tebow is anointed by God to beat the Patriots next weeks; you don’t have to read too much into the fact that Tebow threw 316 yards in his first playoff game yesterday (as in John 3:16); but you should, just maybe, keep him in your prayers. He is showing God to the world and we should support that and support him.

And if you want to be Tebowing while praying for Tebow…I’m sure that would be fine too.