A few years ago I was chatting with a coworker. She teaches students with vision impairments and was excited to tell me about an assembly she was trying to bring to our school. Sensing her passion for the event and the anxiety of pulling it off, I offered to help her with anything she needed. You know like the classic, “Hey if I can help you out with this, let me know.” Well, a few months passed and it was the day before the assembly. She came to me to ask if I could still help. “Of course,” I answered. Then, she smiled. It turns out that my offer of helping out landing me right in the middle of a game of GoalBall that I was completely unprepared for.
If you aren’t familiar with GoalBall, it is a Para Olympic sport for athletes that are visually impaired or blind. Teams of two to three people try to roll a basketball-like ball into their opponent’s goal as many times as possible during a 24 minute match. All players wear black out goggles and must rely on the sound of 2 bells inside of the ball in order to defend their goal with their bodies. These matches can be super intense as athletes can throw and roll the GoalBalls up to 40 miles per hour. Obviously, I was not prepared for what I just signed up for. Not only was I going to attempt to play a game I didn’t know anything about while being totally blind, but I was also going to be playing against 2 of Team USA’s gold medalist. Things were not looking good for me.
As we started the game, things only got worse. A few minutes into the first half, I broke one of the rules of the game. (There is a rule book? I didn’t get a rule book!!!) The opposing team earned a penalty shot. Let’s take a moment to really understand the full scope of this situation. Two grown men that were GOLD MEDALIST were given the chance to hurl a basketball up to 40 mph across the gym floor towards my goal and the only thing standing, actually lying, in the middle of this was my scrawny, inexperienced, and scared body. The advice I was given before they blew the whistle and the game resumed- Just listen for the ball. That may have been easier if I wasn’t in a gym with 500 elementary school kids. You know how quiet 500 kids can be, right?
So, there I was on the gym floor in the fetal position contemplating if I should actually try to use my hands to block this goal from being scored or protect my teeth that my parents spent thousands of dollars on to fix. The whistle blew and the game started. Kids were cheering. Hundreds of feet were restlessly moving around on the bleachers. I knew I needed to listen for those two bells, but there was just so much noise. I furrowed my eyebrows and scrunched my face up in order to concentrate on hearing that ball jingle before it slammed into my face- or worse. I was blocking every other noise out, just trying and waiting for the sound of the bells to arrive. Finally, I heard the little jingle and a second later that ball slammed into my gut. The gym erupted into squeals and cheers (obviously for my stellar defensive skills and not in enjoyment of my pain). I had survived!
I can’t tell you how the rest of the game went because I couldn’t see what was happening. I imagined that I flopped around on the floor like a fish on the bank after you take it off the hook and throw it back in, but no one confirmed or denied that theory. We definitely didn’t win and when the game was over, my team of three had to do 50 push ups in front of the crowd as the punishment of defeat. (Because, you know, we weren’t humiliated enough during the whole game.) It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am grateful to have experienced.
Over the next few days, I reflected on the experience. I thought about how hard it was to hear those two little bells. I knew I needed to hear them in order to play and avoid serious injury, but it was almost impossible to do so over all of the noise in the gym and the noise in my head. I was scared I would be hurt. I was worried I was going to embarrass myself. I was nervous and afraid I was going to let my team down. There were so, so many distractions competing with the sound of two tiny bells. Yet, somehow I had to tune them out and totally focus and wait on the sounds of the bells.
During the course of the last few months, I have been reminded of this experience again. Let’s face it- our world is a very NOISY place right now. I’m not saying that’s totally a bad thing. There are many conversations that are so important right now and now is the time to have them. However, there are many conversations competing to be the loudest, biggest, and best. 2020 has been an overwhelming and noisy year. There have been many times when we have just turned it all off in our house. However, I have realized that while I’ve tried to drown out some of the noise, I haven’t been listening. I need to listen to another still, small sound. I need to lean on and listen to the sound that matters the most. Above all, it is the sound and guidance of God that we need to put our focus on. Just like when I had to scrunch my face up, lean in, and put everything into listening to those two tiny bells, I need to open my Bible, open my heart, and lean in to God’s word. I need to pray for my heart, eyes, and ears to be open to the voice that matters most. It is his words that will lead me. It is his love and guidance that will calm my heart. His voice is the one I need to hear now more than ever.