When we bought our home three years ago I was excited to find that there was a pool table in the basement.
I played a good bit of billiards at Allen’s Bar and Grill in Athens when I was a college “student” and wanted to sharpen my skills against my kids. But my oldest two never developed much love for the game. That’s probably because I smoked them so badly.
But now, with the oldest two off in Athens themselves, 8-year-old Ford has discovered the pool table.
“Day-day, can we play pool?!?” he asks almost nightly.
It’s not exactly riveting competition to play pool with an 8-year-old. He can’t really slide the stick along his extended thumb like adults do. He tried to swing it with two hands like a spear, with poor results. Finally, I taught him to just slide the stick on the table with one hand. He’s getting the hang of it. He resisted using a “bridge” until I assured him that it was not a weak cop-out, but an allowed part of the game. Sometimes he even wins, when I scratch on the 8 ball, of course.
One problem with almost every basement pool table is trying to hit with a wall behind you. So finally I went online and ordered some 3-foot “kids” pool sticks.
They arrived on Tuesday night and I handed Ford the box for him to open. He struggled with it and finally asked for help. I pulled the sticks out and we admired them through the plastic. Next we started trying to pull the plastic off. It wasn’t easy either. He yanked from his end. I yanked from mine. Frustrated, I let my end go to get some scissors. That sent the sharp end of the stick flying into his eye. Uh oh. Ford went to the ground crying, holding his little hands over his eyes. I felt terrible.
Our youngest child can be dramatic. But until he could stop crying long enough for me to make sure his eye was OK and that he could see, I was pretty worried.
Mama made a cold compress to put on his eye, and I breathed a sigh of relief that there appeared to be no serious damage.
“You’re probably gonna have a black eye tomorrow, buddy,” she told him.
“I hate pool!” he shouted. “I never want to play again!”
OK, well, there was no serious PHYSICAL damage anyway.
After that brief brush with crisis, I thought about the helplessness and fear I felt watching my son cry in pain. And then I thought about our friends Vern and Joy Sanders. Most everybody in Monroe County knows that their little 9-year-old daughter Madeline died after a 3-year battle with brain cancer. If a little eye bruise panicked this old dad, I cannot imagine the suffering of watching a child face a terminal illness over 3 years. The countless visits to doctors and hospitals. The grim prognosis. The widening circle of health issues. The financial pressures.
I am no expert on suffering. My parents’ divorce, the failure of a printing business and the 2016 Tennessee-UGA game are the only serious trials I have had in my brief life so far.
But I know there are more to come. Small towns and especially our churches are pretty good at rallying to friends who suffer. It’s encouraging to see so many people helping and ministering to suffering families. While we can relieve suffering, we are powerless to end suffering.
In one of the most infamous examples of suffering, Job lost his children, his wealth and his health. He was suffering so badly that pus oozed out all over his skin. Thankfully Job had 3 friends who arrived to comfort him. To their credit, they said nothing for the first 7 days. They just sat with Job. A silent witness to his pain. A statement that they were with him.
But as often happens, they got sideways when they began to talk. They wound up giving long speeches theorizing about how Job may have angered God. God finally gave the 3 friends a resounding rebuke for their performances.
“You have not spoken of me the thing that is right,” said the Lord.
No, suffering people don’t need lectures or half-baked theology. When I am suffering, I am most likely to take comfort from one who has suffered as much or more than I. When I suffer, I find hope in the fact that our God, our maker, suffered the anguish of the death of His own son, and He did it to save my soul. And yours.
Our prayers will continue for the Sanders family. They have suffered much. Thanks goes to those who have sought in small ways to relieve it.