The warm Florida sun shown brightly overhead as we all stood, hands over our hearts and our eyes fixed upon the stars and stripes in center field fluttering in the strong breeze blowing in from the ocean just a few short miles to the east. A lone seven year old girl stood directly behind home plate and the white curly W with red trim painted in the perfectly manicured grass. She looked very patriotic in her blue and white dress and red hair band, holding a microphone adorned with a curly W. As her angelic voice ushered forth the first few notes of the Star Spangled Banner, the crowd knew this was a very special moment. What a privilege to be reminded that we are truly blessed to be citizens of this great nation where we enjoy freedom and to be thankful for those who have gone before us to secure and defend that freedom.
Florida in the Spring is a very special place for me. I recently returned from a week watching Nats Spring Training, my fifth Spring Training trip in six years. Deb and I went solo in 2011, combining Spring Training with Disney World. Alan and Jeffrey joined us in 2012. We took 2013 off due to Deb’s first chemo regimen but returned as a family in 2014. Last year I went with wonderful friends Brian and Bonnie Conaway, logging almost 1,000 miles on the rental car hopscotching across the state attending eight games in seven days in five stadiums. And this year I went solo, catching seven games over six days in four stadiums. This was also the last year watching the Nats at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, FL. Next year they’ll play in a brand new stadium that they’ll share with the Houston Astros in West Palm, FL. I’m looking forward to creating many new memories there.
Looking back, I’m so thankful for the 2011, 2012, and 2014 trips. 2011 was special because it was the first year Deb and I experienced the Spring Training adventure, and combining it with several days at Disney World made it all the more memorable. 2012 with the family was great because we were able to enjoy the trip and create priceless memories before Deb was diagnosed with cancer later that year. And 2014 will be forever etched in my memory for two main reasons. First, we were again creating wonderful memories as a family. We decided to make this a family trip because Jeffrey was going to be in Japan that summer for college study abroad and we would not be able to have our usual summer family vacation at the beach. I’m so glad we made this decision, because we obviously didn’t know this would be our last Florida trip together as a family. And second, Deb was feeling reasonably well and able to enjoy herself. This was during her second chemo regimen where she tolerated Avastin well and life was fairly normal/routine for us. When you’re battling cancer, or any other major illness or issue, “normal/routine” is a wonderful thing! When you’re loved one has been through so much, there’s nothing better than to see them laugh and smile, knowing that at least for the moment, they’re not in pain or dealing with disappointment.
Spring is very special because not only do we celebrate the return of baseball and the hope of our favorite team winning the World Series, but we also celebrate Easter and Christ’s victory over sin and death that His empty tomb represents. I spent some time at Deb’s grave on Easter reflecting on the day’s true meaning. Just as that seven year old girl in Florida last month reminded me how blessed we are to be Americans when she so beautifully sang the national anthem, DC Washington blessed me as I again listened to him sing “I Will Rise” from Deb’s Celebration of Life service. As I stood at her grave, my tears flowed freely as these precious words were like balm to my aching, grieving heart:
There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”
Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise, I will rise
I was so powerfully reminded during those moments that because of Christ’s victory, Deb IS with Him – “no more sorrow, no more pain”. The grave IS overwhelmed, the victory IS won!
And that is far more valuable than all the World Series victories combined!