Lessons in Tennis from Bill Foster

When I was in elementary school, my Grandpa took on the task of teaching me to play tennis. He bought me a brand new racket, grabbed a bucket of balls, and took me out to the court near my house. He played tennis for UC Berkeley, and would go on to play tennis at his retirement community well into his 70s. People were always shocked that he played such a movement-filled game when he got older, but I knew his secret.

My Grandpa never moved from his spot throughout the entire match. He literally stood in the very center of the back half of the court, and had me running every which way chasing his impossible volleys. He might take one or two steps one way or the other, but never quickly or sporadically, and he hardly missed a ball. He was slow and methodical, and barely breathing hard by the time we were finished, and I would be a sweaty mess who could barely walk as I ran up and down and around the court. 

This past Friday we celebrated my grandfather’s life in a graveside service with our immediate family. It was a beautiful time of sharing the rock he was, and still is, in our family. His devotion to God, and the outpouring of God’s love that came so naturally from him is something we all hope to embody and pass down. We talked about how he didn’t grow up knowing Jesus, but once he knew him, nothing else was important. He strived hard after God, tearing through multiple bibles in his daily study of His word. And he was steady and steadfast in his service to the Lord. 

Just like when he played tennis, he stayed rooted in one spot in his life. I don’t mean geographically, that is far from true; I mean that he stayed rooted in his love for God. He wasn’t running around striving after anything except for sharing God’s love with the world. Every morning he was up studying the bible, and praying. Every day he spent his time seeking out needs and fulfilling them. A foster kid needed a home, his was open. East Oakland needs a house to do a kids club out of, he moved there to do the steady, loving work. Mount Hermon has a missionary house that needs a host, my Grandpa readily accepted that challenge. Brentwood needs free tutoring and reading help, “A Place of Learning” is born. (More on these adventures here: https://abideandwrite.com/2019/12/24/advent-week-4-living-a-life-of-worship/ ) Every day he sought the Lord, and, rooted in him, spread God’s love wherever it was needed.

His tennis game also showed me that some balls just aren’t worth chasing. Occasionally, I should say rarely, I did actually get a point or two past him, but he knew they weren’t worth chasing. He would still win, and I would still learn. In his life, he knew deeply what was in his realm of expertise, and what simply was not. And he knew that God didn’t need him to do everything, he just needed him to do what he was called to do. My Grandpa faithfully served as the financial guy for our church for years and years. He was retired, but he knew his skills were needed and important. Nobody knew the hours he spent in that office tallying tithes, paying bills, and counseling my Dad, but God knew, and our church was blessed. He didn’t chase after speaking in front of church, leading worship (guy could not keep a beat), or building a new ministry, he faithfully served where God asked him to. 

The last thing his tennis game really taught me was a very important characteristic of God: he is steadfast, never changing. On the court, my grandpa was never stressed because the game of tennis doesn’t change and he knew it inside out. He knew what his opponent, the ball, and his racket would do, if he just stayed in one spot. My Grandpa knew in life that by staying in one spot, rooted in the Lord, he could never be shaken. He could serve the Lord from his talents, and love God and others deeply out of his relationship with Jesus. He was never afraid of what the Lord would or would not do in his life and in others. He knew the Lord would always do good, and always make a way. He was never worried or stressed about the Lord’s plans because he knew God would never change, and God is good.

The last verse read at my Grandfathers graveside was Phillippians 4:8-9:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” 

Going forward I hope we can all remember that we don’t need to run around like a crazy person, we just need to remain rooted in what we know won’t be shaken, and follow the call God has given to each of us. I have seen these things in my grandfather, and I hope we can all put them into practice. 

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