Last night I put my daughter to bed for the night, said goodbye to my husband Brian, and went out to play volleyball in a school gym for a couple of hours. I came home sweaty, elated, and feeling known.
I felt known for two reasons. The first was because my husband went out of his way to find a new drop-in volleyball time in town so that we could both get another evening of volleyball in each week.
It’s good for me to not just be “mom,” but to be Mandy. Volleyball gives me that chance. It also helps me manage my anxiety. It was so kind and loving of him to think of this, and then to arrange it for me. I felt known and seen.
The second reason is because, when I walked into that gym to play volleyball and get my sweat on, I was playing with a bunch of familiar and friendly faces. People stopped their games to give me hugs, and then were quick to ask how work was going, how Brian was doing, how Chloe was doing, etc.
They lovingly teased me, encouraged me, and were genuinely so excited to see me and have fun together. And I met a bunch of new friends on the court–the amount of high-fiving involved in volleyball really helps with this. I felt so known!
When Brian and I met, I hadn’t played volleyball for about 10 years. I played in elementary school and loved it, but hadn’t really played since. Then, this hunk of guy who I was taking much interest in, and who had noticed me too, asked if I was into sports.
“Oh yeah!” (Not really – but I did enjoy working out.)
“What’s your sport?”
“Oh I love volleyball – definitely my fave.”
“Me too! I’ve played my whole life.”
“Come sub on my INTERMEDIATE LEVEL volleyball team this week”
(Did I just say “sure”!)
Later that week, I walked into a gym FULL of people who play intermediate volleyball (think giants, knee pads, and very fast moving balls). What have I done? I don’t belong here! I haven’t played in so long! This is, without a doubt, going to be embarrassing.
I finally find Brian in the crowd. Great…more nervous energy. Why is he so hot!?
I make my way over to meet our team, all of them over 6’ tall, and having played since they could walk, or darn close.
I’m bracing myself for the longest and most embarrassing hour of my life.
Fast forward an hour, and I’ve survived the game. And I…wait….had fun?
Brian’s team was so welcoming. They weren’t just there to play volleyball, they were there to hang out with their friends and have fun. Everyone in that gym was there for those reasons. Music was playing, people were laughing, dancing on the court, high-fiving, encouraging each other–it was kind of awesome!
Now fast forward a year. Brian and I are dating, and we’re playing volleyball together 2-3 nights a week, completely submerged in the volleyball community in Guelph. Any chance we get, we are passing a ball between the two of us. He’s coached me into being a pretty decent setter, and I love it. I love the time we have together and seeing him in his zone. He’s a fantastic teacher. He believes in me so much more than I do myself, and always celebrates with me when I learn a new skill.
Fast forward some more, and Brian and I are getting married with our volleyball crew there to celebrate with us!
Fast forward again, and we’re expecting a baby! Our volleyball family goes nuts, asking me every week if I should be playing. I play for a while…well….until my midwife tells me I have to stop. Brian also coaches a U13 boys club team, so I often watch their games. Even the kids on the team are excited to meet this baby. My teammate Jen, who had a baby a year earlier, gifts me all her maternity clothes, and all the baby things she’s done with.
Chloe comes and, though I disappear from the volleyball scene for a little while, the community doesn’t forget me. They ask Brian constantly about how Chloe and I are doing. Another teammate, Carly, drops off a meal for our family. I finally make it out for an evening of play, and everything stops to welcome me back!
When I showed up at volleyball last night, Paul had told some people about my setting and blocking, and how much fun we have playing together. I met Paul and Kevin on the beach volleyball court a few years earlier, when they were just starting out at the sport. Now both of them play 5 nights a week, and are extremely good. I like to think I had something to do with it. They are also our great friends. I love watching these two guys interact with Chloe. They love her so much!
When I think about our volleyball community, it reminds me of this Sarah Bessey quote:
“Church people don’t have exclusive rights to looking after others. It turns out that you can find community in the craziest places. Like in the midst of your life – as it is right now[…]Sometimes I think that community is just a churchy word for the old-fashioned goodness of being a friend.” (Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts, pg110-111.)
Community is community. Whether it’s in a church, or outside of church. “Like in the midst of your life – as it is right now.” It’s where you are known. But being known will always involve risk–like the risk of an embarrassing hour of volleyball with a guy you can only dream of marrying, who ends up becoming your husband. But now, years later, I gotta say, it was worth it. I love this sport, I love these people, and I’m loved by them.
What risk do you want to take to be known?