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With all the hype on March Madness this past week, I took the time to catch part of a spring training baseball game. Truthfully I only took the time because I knew this blog needed to be written, and I could only muster a few short innings because of the pull towards the college basketball playoffs on another station. I was struck by this. I love major league baseball. I am not dedicated to any team as much as my beloved Cubs. The only team I have rooted for my entire life. The only dedication to a team that couldn’t be shaken by a thousand mile move to Denver from Chicago (not that this is nearly as hard to handle as a 106 year title drought). I don’t even watch college basketball regularly. I didn’t watch a single regular season game this year. Typically I begin to watch during the start of the conference tournaments which mark the onset of March Madness. Yet the pull was so much stronger on this day to the NCAA than to the MLB.

As I thought about this simple scenario, I was struck by a much more substantial truth about the way I do life. The draw towards the big games. The pull towards the pressure situations. The thrill of everything being on the line. The need for what I do to really count. To truly make a difference. And on the other side, the difficulty remaining in the mundane. The struggle to remain in a time of preparation and training. The desire for something more meaningful and purposeful than practice. The feeling of being past the need to be taught and trained by others.

One of the things I love about baseball is the length of the season. It’s March, and spring training has already begun. The season will not end until late October. 162 games in the regular season alone. It is so long. It requires so much. If you watch a team on a regular basis, you can observe a single play in a single game and see how it can impact an entire season (any Cubs fans out there still haunted by the name Steve Bartman). And yet there is so much time to make or break the season. So many highs a team must sustain and so many challenges a team must overcome to be victorious in the end.

As I was thinking of the parallels and watching the Cactus League game, I was thinking of how poorly things would go if the players and coaches failed to realize the necessity of the training period. If they allowed the pitcher to throw 100 pitches his first game. If the batters expected to bat .300 the first day of training camp. The amount of damage done physically and emotionally would be devastating to any team’s chances of competing for a title.

I also thought of the type of start a team would get if they chose to overlook spring training. If they chose to just show up on opening day and face the competition based purely on raw talent. It would be painful to watch. They would be unprepared for what they were expected to accomplish. What they were capable of accomplishing with the preparation.

As I think and write of this, I am slow to see how this all integrates into my own story. I feel called to a great deal. God has set some pretty grand dreams of what I hope to accomplish for His glory. A lot of passions and desires have been unearthed that don’t seem to be going away. Dreams of the husband and father I want to be. Desires to make a significant difference in the lives of people whom I will meet. Hope of bringing healing to places where it is not readily available. I hope many of you can relate to these types of dreams. And yet so often I feel stuck in times and places that seem insignificant or meaningless even to the small part I have in such a larger story being written. So often I want my role in the narrative to be better. Or at least I want the meaningful parts of the life I currently have to be a bigger portion of my life (i.e. I would love to financially only need to counsel people and Starbucks would be a distant memory). And yet I am still in training. I am still learning and growing. And if I’m not going to suffer unnecessary pain and cause tremendous damage to myself and others, I must allow myself to go through this process. If I’m going to be capable of staying in the game and remaining in the battle for the long haul of life, I must have the correct foundation from which to build.

As I am writing this I am wondering how you are experiencing training and preparation in your own story. Over the past few years, I have experienced this season of preparation a number of ways personally and professionally. Graduate school, practicum, internship, my own individual counseling, pursuing mentoring relationships from other men, small group participation, home renovation projects, and work at Starbucks to name some of them. A strange mix of ways God continues to grow me into the husband, father, counselor, and leader that he can entrust with the desires and dreams he has set in my heart.

My desire for you as you read this would be for you to open yourself up to the ways you need to be trained. To allow yourself to contemplate the passions, dreams, and desires you have in your heart and to begin to think of the ways in which you need to grow if you are to be trusted in your pursuit of them. For some this may be schooling. Others may need to pursue individual or marriage counseling. Others still might need to spend some time in Home Depot talking to a worker about how to tile a floor. Maybe it might mean looking for an older, wiser man or woman who may share their story with you. Whatever it might be I hope you move toward training so that when the time comes and the game is on the line, you will be confident that you are prepared and that you have what it takes.