01 August 2005

Monday Menagerie IX

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to esoteric and offbeat things, in the hope that these will supply learning experiences for us all.

The worst great day of my life

James 4:13-15 says, "Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that."

Several years ago, the Lord (in the infinite wisdom of His good Providence) allowed me to experience something that has remained in my mind ever since as a perpetual reminder of that truth. It seems relatively trivial, but it was certainly memorable. And that is an effective way to learn a lesson such as this.

It was the perfect day, and I was in the perfect place at the perfect moment. It was one of those rare instances when you consciously sense the confluence of everything auspicious—your own energy, the weather, the love of your family, and divine grace itself—and you feel as if God is smiling on you.

Top of the bleachersIt was August 10, 1989. Darlene and I and the boys were on vacation. It was a warm day but not too hot. We were sitting in the front row of the left-field bleachers in Wrigley field. The Cubs were playing the Phillies.

Darlene and I had our very first date ever at Wrigley field in 1977, and we have both been devoted Die-Hard® fans of the Chicago Cubs ever since. So in 1989, when our three boys were finally old enough to appreciate the grandeur of it all, we used our vacation to make a long pilgrimage in our little Honda from our home Los Angeles back to where we had our first date.

Bleacher gateOn our first day in Chicago, we had standing-room only tickets on the third base side, far back under the canopy. The boys stood transfixed and paying close attention through the whole game. And the Cubs moved into first place in the pennant race that day.

But the next day—this day—promised even better things. We had seats in the front row of the bleachers—the greatest place in all the world from which to view Major League Baseball.


One moment from that day looms large in my memory. The score was 10-3 in the fifth inning. The Cubs were comfortably in the lead. They had already hit a couple of home runs that sailed right over our heads. This game was awesome. I was feeling good. A sense of absolute well-being swept over me.

I decided to roll my sleeves up over my shoulders and get some serious sun.

Darlene has this thing where she starts to act like a mother when everyone is having fun. And so she asked me if I didn't want some sunscreen for my pasty-white shoulders and knees. (She carries this big bag to baseball games, and she can pull anything she wants out of the bag.) Before I could even say no, she had dragged out about five varieties of sunscreen concoctions and started trying to foist them on me. But I didn't want lotion or oil. It makes you all gummy and sticky, and I didn't want to spoil a perfect moment.

400 ft.Now that moment is frozen in my mind, and I have often recalled it, because that particular moment was one of the most perfect moments of my life. I was on vacation—no pressure. My kids were loving it. My wife was especially beautiful in the outfield sun. A heroic aura seemed to surround me. The Cubs were comfortably out in front, and we had front-row bleacher seats on a day when the weather was as close to heaven as Chicago ever gets.

And the thing I remember most about that moment was what I said to Darlene when she started nagging me about putting on sun screen. She was warning me that I'd be sorry later if I didn't.

Cubs get their PhilI said, "This is a perfect day. We've got perfect seats at the perfect game on a perfect day. The Cubs are in first place. They're way out in front in this game. The weather is perfect. Nothing will ruin this day."

As soon as those words escaped my lips, James 4:15 came to mind ("ye ought to say . . .") and my conscience smote me.

But before I could tack on the words "...Lord willing" to the end my sentence, a home run from the bat of some Philly sailed right over my head onto Waveland Avenue.

Before the fifth inning was over, the Phillies had hit two homers. By the end of the inning the score was tied 10-10.

Another one bites the dust

But that was only the beginning of troubles. The final score was 16-13. The Cubs lost. And in the last two innings a thunderstorm blew in from Lake Michigan. The sky turned incredibly dark—so dark they had to turn on the lights. Lightning was hitting the buildings all around Wrigley field. And at the very moment the game ended, it began to rain so hard that by the time we got to our car, we could not have been more wet if we had actually gone for a swim in lake Michigan.


We were too wet to turn on the air conditioner, and the windows were steaming up from the humidity. It was miserable. We were soaking wet. The traffic was terrible. The kids smelled like—well, wet kids. We were facing a ten-hour drive that evening to get to my sister's house in Missouri.

And my sunburn was already killing me.

Later that night, several hours into our long drive to Missouri, Darlene looked at me sweetly, and said, "You're right. This was an absolutely perfect day. Nothing could've spoiled it."

And then she whacked me on the knee, right where my sunburn was the worst.

Phil's signature


Russ said...

Makes me miss Chicago, Phil.

Jason Robertson said...

Phil, something makes me think that when Darlene slapped your knee God was still smiling.

Chris Meirose said...

Brother, that is true love. God has blessed you with a great women to keep you in check. I think all men need that, and all men fear that!

Big Chris
Because I said so

Jeri said...

In the City of Brotherly Love, our sunscreen is never gummy!

--Jeri (Phillies fan!)

Kim said...

I think I like your wife.

Don A. Elbourne Jr. said...

Phil, its interesting that you post this story this morning. Just last night, at our church fellowship meal, a man in our church told me that he had listened to a great sermon last week. It was your sermon "The Evil of Ignoring Providence" where you tell this same story. Thanks again for providing your Sword and Trowel sermon library. Our church has been blessed and encouraged by it.

A Birdy said...

I also heard this story while listening to Phil's sermon "The Evil of Ignoring Providence" a few weeks ago. found here

(Thanks Don for the sermon title - I remembered the story but forgot which sermon).

Peter Bogert said...

Not "some Philly" but "some Phillie." Spelling counts, Phil!!!

I'll be in the 4th row in RF at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night watching your Cubs play my Phillies.

KS said...

I think this is the best Monday Menagerie yet! Go Astros....

John Haller said...

First date, huh? I think I can top that.

My wife attended her first major league game at Wrigley Field on July 4, 1975 against my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, ON OUR HONEYMOON. It was a beautiful day, a doubleheader which the Bucs lost 6-1 and 2-1. I looked it up:


The games were boring beyond belief. Of course, my wife was just basking in the glow of being with her new husband. The highlight of the day was when the 4-year old kid down the row from us (there with his father and brother) spilled mustard all over himself. That was a great baseball moment. We talked about that happening with our kids some day.

The worst part is a couple of days later we were touring around Chicago and kept getting glimpses of a game which the Pirates won 18-12 in one of those wind-aided slugfests.

jthomas899 said...

I have only one thing to say. I am a St. Louis Cardinal fan. If you were a Cardinal fan, the sun will shine, would never burn you, it might rain, but you never get wet, and you get to cheer for a team that has a couple of World Series titles :) Come to the light! Sorry, I can't help myself. I am third generation Cardinal fan. My first professional name was between Pittsburgh and Stl. I can still remeber my dad calling from his church office telling me that if I could answer, "what color is George Washington's white horse?" he would take me to see the Cardinals. I miss the answer, but grace was extended to me. Actually I got the answer right, Cardinals fans need easy questions. My only disappointed was that Lou Brock (a former Cub) didn't play that day. I still smile thinking about going to see the Cardinals play with my dad. I hope to one day take my children with me to see the best baseball team in America--The St. Louis Cardinals. Enough of this, I got to get back to my sermon on humility.



Steve said...

But of course God knew that if you learned the lesson at a Cubs game, you'd remember it forever. Makes me wonder if since then, you've approached Wrigley Field with a slight sense of trepidation.

Matthew Self said...

You have lost a cursed compatriot in the average Red Sox fan, but now that the D-Backs have officially lost their meal ticket, I sense I may be joining you in years and years of cursed agony. Thank the Lord for April, when ever team is undefeated!

Anonymous said...

Sunburns are always sobering reminders.

FX Turk said...

I'm reading the comments, and maybe 2 or 3 people so far "got" this post, Phil.

This is not about Chicago (which is nice -- I like Chicago) or the Cubs (which, of course, is a matter of taste and common sense): it's about Phil's wife being a theophany of the Holy Spirit on a day when Phil was full of Calvinistic Hubris. I take it as axiomatic that my wife manifests the Holy Spirit when she is urging me to get a grip.

I'll bet all these people read Max Lucado.

blogtrotter said...


Way off topic here, but, have you updated your bookmarks of late?

Phil Johnson said...

Blogtrotter, no, and thank you so much for bringing up a subject I was already feeling guilty about. While you're at it, why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?

Christopher said...

Phil that is hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

I don't know what you think, but I personally think the Cubs have already tanked this current season away! Lawton is too little, too late, in my opinion.

a_simple_bloggtrotter said...


(Had to alter the name a bit)

...humperdink. Now, back to the bookmarks with ye.

Jeremy said...


I can relate to your pain in watching that game. Bartman put me through similar anguish. It's okay though, I have forgiven him.

By the way your son, Jeremiah and I were able to enjoy opening day in 2001 at Wrigley against the Expos. We had seats in the way upper deck behind homeplate and he was able to get us some nice spots in the sun about 5 rows behind the dugout on the thirdbase line. Cubs won, Jeremiah and I had a great day and that day remains a fond memory of mine while I lived in Chicago and went to Moody!

Go Cubs!

Sarah said...

Got to love our wives, praise God for them!!!

hadji said...

loved the story, but have to say that i cringed when i read the words: "My wife was beautiful." for some reason i'm getting hung-up on the word "was" and hoping that it doesn't mean what it sounds like.

thanks again for sharing your experience. that text has been a great help and strong rebuke to me in many situations.

David said...

Growing up Lutheran, I learned that the 8th Commandment (9th, now that I’ve been “reformed”) means that I should not “…deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame [my] neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the most charitable construction on all that he says or does.”

With that in mind, I think Phil meant, by saying that his wife “was” beautiful, that with his advancing age, his eyesight has degenerated to the point that he no longer knows if his wife is beautiful or not.

How’s that for “charitable?”

David Kjos

Matthew Self said...

Centurion, apologies for my weak exegesis of PyroManiac. I'll try and consult my baseball interlinear next time, so as to avoid making meaningless sociable comments in a spiritual thread. =)

supersimbo said...

cool man, totally cool

FX Turk said...


Some people see the word "choose" and loose their minds; other people see the word "cubs" and have the same reaction.

While I try to react with grace to both, one of these two groups tread on shifting sand. Without causing a schims here at Phil's blog, it's the group which consistently turns out for stadium events but never seems to get results. You figure which that is. :-)

Bret Capranica said...

Phil, thanks for the blog roll - so thankful we didn't find our name noted between the "Coffee" crowd and our dear friends at the "BHT."

Phil Johnson said...

To all: I'm having inexplicable problems with my template. In the process of reindexing, I noticed that some comments were inadvertently lost. Here's one, for example, from Jonathan Moorhead:



I would just like to say that I like your shirt in the "Cubs Get Their Phil Today" picture.

Posted by Jonathan Moorhead to PyroManiac at 8/01/2005 03:12:29 PM


I don't know what's causing the flakiness in the template. I made some modifications, so it is probably my fault. I'm working on it. In the meantime, if you post comments that later disappear, it's probably not intentional. Feel free to post again, unless you're posting some egregious breach of the rules.

Habitans in Sicco said...

I figured you were purposely deleting all my posts. I've submitted half a dozen irreplacable, brilliant posts in the past hour, and now they are all gone.

Habitans in Sicco said...

...and you'll just have to wonder what I said. I'm not typing it all out again.

Patrick Chan said...

If I remember right, Phil also preached this story in a sermon. To those who haven't heard the sermon, and I apologize because I forget which one it was on the Sword and the Trowel (perhaps Phil remembers?), I gotta say it's well worth listening to Phil "live"! :-)

Unknown said...

Hhmmm "Habitans in Sicco" nice picture.. too bad that wasn't deleted too.

Phil.. your wife reminds me of mine when it comes to the sunscreen. Does she also throw away a bottle that has barely been used because it is last seasons. But then again, maybe you don't have that problem in CA.


Brett said...

There's an additional moral of the story: the Cubs curse extends to the fans. Ah, the blessedness of being born and raised near St. Louis!

Speaking of the curse, has anyone done a comparison of the curse (and Fall) of the Cubs with Adam's Fall? Adam had the snake, the Cubs have the goat. Adam was in a garden; the Cubs are on a field. Adam learned about pain; the Cubs are always in pain. Adam was banished from the garden; the Cubs have been banished from the World Series. Adam got in trouble for listening to a girl; the Cubs get in trouble because they play like ...well, on second thought, I better not go there.