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The Fisher of Stories



maybe, maybe, maybe
you’ll find something that’s enough to keep you
but if the bright lights don’t receive you,
then turn yourself around and come on home.
 Matchbox Twenty

Sixty hours ago I was throwing my backpack into my truck and headed to go get Nate. 
As we made the trip to the State Fairgrounds, I kept checking Facebook and seeing all the statuses about heading to Oklahoma City and how excited everyone was.
I was excited too.
The State Tournament. The Big House. And the Okay Mustangs.
Those words aren’t used together every year. Volleyball, maybe, but not basketball.
Since no one bothered to tell us about the massive construction project on I-40 (shoutout to all you chumps), we got to the game just a few minutes before it started. Okay vs. Velma-Alma, two schools that, had you conducted a poll anywhere but there, no one would have heard of.
Our boys made it look easy.
That’s not slighting the Comets, that’s simply a testament to the shooting performance our boys gave. Shots were dropping like gas prices during an election year, and it was fun. After a certain point, it didn’t even seem real anymore.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you and tell you I wasn’t sure how they’d handle the big stage.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
A twenty-point win and a drive back to the hotel, where I swam in the pool and thought about the game. Where I thought about Chad, and how he was back where it started for him in 1998. About that time I played thirty seconds in a state tournament game and had one rebound and one turnover.
I seriously think I told that story to whoever would listen. I was pulling hotel maids into the room and reenacting the rebound, making Hayden and Nate play defense every time I told it.
Enter day two. 
A 10:30 a.m. game against the number three team in the state. A team that had also been up by twenty points in their first game.
I was, yet again, worried, because that’s what I do.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
The shooting performance they put on Friday made Thursday’s show look like me trying to dip two McNuggets into a painfully small hot mustard packet.
I honestly think at one point I made a three. And if I live long enough I’m sure that’s how the story will go one day. Three-pointers were flying through the nets like a…well, listen, I’ve watched my two favorite teams lose today, so I’m at a loss for a simile.
They got hot.
They won by ten, but it was really by twenty.
In the meantime, Fort Cobb-Broxton was busily winding their way through the bracket, making it look as though the OSSAA had mistakenly assigned a 5A team to the A tourney.
And then today happened. Day three. The championship game. 
A Facebook post informed me earlier that Okay has been a school district for 97 years. In 97 years we’ve never once had a basketball team in a state championship game.
But by God we did today.
I was worried. I watched Fort Cobb play both nights and I was worried. I tried to contain what I felt but my celebrations were muted, my conversations heavy with the weight of my pessimism.
Turns out, they didn’t need me to believe in them.
Our boys—Our Okay Mustangs—went out onto that floor and from the very first tip worked their butts off to bring home a gold ball for our town. They ran off screens, they dealt with bumps, they hustled for loose balls—all for us. All for Okay.
Those shots that fell the first two games didn’t fall today. And you know what? That’s okay, and here’s why.
My children teach me things all the time. Just when I think I’m the smartest person in the family, one of them will innocently say something so full of wisdom that I know The Lord is trying to knock me over the head with a lesson.
I pulled into the driveway this evening, emotionally exhausted, upset, and proud all at the same time.
Aven, my eight-year-old, was playing in the yard and came up to the truck as I got out.
“How was basketball?” he asked. 
“It was a lot of fun,” I replied. 
“Did you win it all?” 
“No, son, we lost in the championship game.” 
“Oh…well, that’s really that bad though, right?” 
I looked up, and saw my beautiful wife, who I’d missed very much, coming outside to kiss me hello.
In that moment, the entire weekend sped through my mind like a highlight reel on fast forward. The jump shots. The three-pointers. The conversations with people I’d grown up with. The celebrations. The hustle. The silver ball. The first second-place state tournament ever for our basketball program. The beautiful game of basketball that I love, played by young men that I love, coached by two men I admire and respect, administrated by a principal and superintendent that I think the world of. It all came over me, baptizing me in the sheer fun of the weekend.
And I realized that my son is wiser than I am.
“No, Aven, it’s really not that bad.” 
Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We’ll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball.
Thank you, boys. Thank you, Chad and Steve. Thank you to the fans, to the town that raised me, and the town that is letting me help raise their students.
November can’t get here quick enough.

“Alicia, I love you. I want to have kids with you, and I can’t wait to raise them together and watch them be successful with you. I’m upset right now because of what just happened, and I’m still trying to process everything. I’m not upset with you at all, and I know it might seem like it because I’m not talking a lot right now, but I’m just trying to cope with these feelings. All I know is that I never want to do that again, and I hope you feel the same way.” 

That’s all I really wanted to say to my wife on Saturday afternoon. We were sitting in Shawnee, OK, in the parking lot of a Kohls, and I’d had 30 miles to rehearse what I was going to say to her. I opened my mouth, and I managed to say, “I’m not mad at you…” before the tears threatened to start. So instead of a wordy explanation, Alicia got to see me choke up and stare out the window for 5 minutes trying to get a hold on myself.

You might not believe that a “party” started all of that, but it did.

Most of you know that Alicia and I are trying to adopt a child. We’ve recently been approved for that adoption, and now we are just searching for children. We’ve set age limits, we’ve set the conditions we’d accept, and we’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sure we’ve done the right thing. So when we got an invitation to an “Adoption Party,” we signed up, just to give it a chance. I had a bad feeling about it all along, but I knew Alicia really wanted to check it out, so I agreed to it.

It was a two and a half hour drive to Oklahoma City, and we got there about 30 minutes early. We walked into a gymnasium, and we were handed our name tags, some tickets for a door prize, and a book. In my time on this earth, I’ve made some enemies, both big and small. I’m here to tell you, I wouldn’t wish that book on the worst of those enemies. The photos and words run together in a blur on the pages, under the guise of what the kids like to do in their free time, all telling stories of the pain of abandonment, the knife points of loss, the wounds that never completely heal. The kids are all smiling in their pictures, some of them are dressed in suits, and all of them having one thing in common.

They are absolutely too old for us.

There were balloons, inflatables, food, craft stations, and posters of superheroes and movie stars everywhere. If someone had walked in off the street, they would have thought that they had stumbled onto a rich kid’s extravagant birthday party. Laughter was in the air, smiles were plentiful, but all of those were storefronts built to conceal the tents of sympathy behind them.

Alicia and I first decided to adopt because of a little girl’s picture on a local news station’s website. Alicia sent it to me one day and said, “I want to adopt, and I want this little girl.” Neither of us have ever looked back from that moment, but we did decide that the little girl was too old for us. However, on Saturday, that little girl was in that book. She likes basketball and has an older sister. That’s all I managed to read before I had to turn away and stare icily into the distance, telling myself that if I cried in front of 300 people that I’d be laughed out of the place.

If I had agreed to it, we’d have left with that little girl and her sister that day, and I don’t think it would have been a “legal” adoption. Sadly, they are just too old for us.

Alicia and I scanned the room, and we noticed something. There were people there with 2, 3, and even 4 kids, and they were looking to adopt more. We both got angry about that. How is that fair? Why would they want more? Don’t they know that we don’t have ANY? Don’t they know that they are just making it harder for us? Finally I realized that they don’t. They might be blessed enough to take care of another child, and they are just trying to help someone out. I can’t judge them. Alicia and I still feel like we should have “dibs” though. I know that’s not logical, but you won’t convince either of us of that.

We were ushered into the arena, and told that the kids up for adoption would be there shortly. After they handed out a few door prizes, they told everyone to start mingling in preparation for their arrival. Alicia and I sat there on the bleachers, trying to decide whether or not we were going to leave, and in walked that little girl and her sister. Both of them cuter than the pictures ever could have told us. Alicia pointed them out, but I had already been watching them for some time. I watched as they went through the inflatables, and I watched as the older sister put her sibling’s shoes back on for her. I watched as a woman walked up to them and said, “Are you sisters?” I watched as the oldest nodded yes, and I watched as the woman immediately turned her back on them and started to walk away. I watched as they went to each “fun” station, unable to move, my heart seeming as though it was tearing loose from chest. I watched, I watched, and I watched.

Then I got up and left.

A piece of me died on Saturday, some part of my soul that I can only hope will regenerate itself. We walked out the front doors, and I will never forget how quiet it was outside. The door behind us slammed like jail cells in the movies. We walked away, leaving those kids to lives unknown, simply because they’d been born 2 or 3 years before the kids we’ll eventually get.

So as I sat in the parking lot of that Kohls, staring out the window, I finally reigned in all my emotion and the words came fast and plentiful. It wasn’t that elegant and rehearsed speech that I’d had 20 minutes to prepare, but when I saw the look in Alicia’s eyes, I knew she understood. We’re on the same page, it’s just not a page in that terrible, awful, and scary adoption book. We’re going to make a difference for someone. But we’re never going back to one of those “parties.”

p.s. I know some of you are here looking for the winner of the contest. Because of the weekend I had, I didn’t tally everything up. However, I am doing it today and will have a winner tomorrow! Thanks for your patience!