I spent some time recently watching my son shoot baskets with the girl across the street. That in itself seems simple enough. But as with most of life, there is so much more.

I could tell you about how our son is new to us. Not brand new. He’s 8, but he’s only been with us for 7 months. He’s only been home for 6 months. We adopted him from China this year. Just the fact that he’s here and has the opportunity to go across the street, talk and play with the girl across the street is remarkable.

And then, of course, is the whole story of the adoption journey itself — at least our side of it; we don’t even fully know our son’s side yet. Someday, when language comes more easily for him, I’m hoping we’ll learn about what life without a family was like for him.

But this is just about a simple game of shooting baskets. Because, you see, I didn’t go and play with them. I let them play. I just watched. At first from closer by — just to be sure they played well together. But then I moved further away — back into our own driveway. And it was as I opened the backend of my vehicle and sat in the back I began to really see.

I watched their behaviors, their interaction, their play. They each had their own ball, their own style, their own drive. But they were doing it together.

Though he didn’t make a lot of shots at first, he was diligent to keep shooting the basketball. (The rim was lowered to about 7 feet.) He kept at it. Not always consistent. Not worried about form. Just intent on trying to get the ball into the hoop. Sometimes he’d completely miss everything: hoop, backboard, net. He wasn’t standing that far back — almost right under the rim at times. But he wasn’t deterred by it — he just kept chasing the ball down and coming back to the same general spot and shooting again. Sometimes he’d dribble the ball a few times before shooting, but not always. Nothing consistent here except for his diligence and determination.

And she kept shooting, too. Determined to keep making shots. And she suggested they start counting, keeping track.

“First one to 5!”

“Okay!”

And the competition was on. But it was friendly. Not forceful. Encouraging.

And over the next half hour I watched two neighbors, two classmates, two friends, play, shoot, count, score, shoot, rebound, and count again. I watched them encourage each other. Really, it was her who did the encouraging. Cheering actually. It was amazing.

As my son still struggles with language, she was counting his shots, keeping record of how many he had.

First one to 5 changed to 7, then 10, then 20. Then it was just him.

As he kept making shots (and not every one, mind you) she kept count. And she kept cheering! She stopped shooting. She stood back and cheered him on.

“He got 20! 21! I can’t believe it! Way to go!”

And as he approached 30, then 40, even 50, she kept cheering.

“Mind blown! He has 50! 50!”

It’s hard not to get excited when someone is that excited over such a simple accomplishment.

Oh sure, I was proud of my son for just keeping at it. But I was really impressed with her, too. To just step back and be truly excited about what someone else was doing — without any expectation.

And that’s when it hit me: this is what we should all be about. Invite someone in, make space for them, step back, watch and cheer.

Her thrill came with his achievement. What humility! What grace! What selflessness! What love!

I spend more of my time waiting for others to come along and recognize my accomplishments and cheer me on.

It was her ball he was using. Her court he was on. Her game he entered into. But it was her joy, too.

No envy.

No resentment.

No arguing.

She was doing better than me, too. I sat back and observed as a spectator. Passive and outside the game.

She stayed engaged and active. Participating, but no longer competing. Not afraid to not win. The game had changed. Her win was from his winning. From his repeated attempts and successes.

She didn’t count how many times he missed.

What?! Why not? I would. I’d correct his form. Tell him to step back. Make sure his arm was bent the right away. And in doing so, I’d crush the joy.

She cheered him on, making ridiculous whoops and cheers every time he hit another 3 foot shot. And he kept at it. And he felt like a million bucks. And so did I.

My son isn’t going to be Yao Ming in the NBA anytime soon. Who cares? Today his friend across the street made me feel like he could.

Is there a lesson here? You bet. But I’d ruin it by pointing it out. By telling you the moral. By correcting your form and telling you where you got it wrong.

Let’s just step in and cheer each other on.

Husband. Father. Leader. Connector. Learning to write, run, and enjoy sustainable rhythms. Writing about faith and what it looks like trying to live it out.

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