I remember it like it was yesterday (or 17 years ago – faded things are prettier, right?).
I was a newlywed and my husband walked into our apartment one March afternoon to find me watching March Madness, ironing curtains, and sobbing. He looked at me, looked at the ironing board, looked at the TV and just carefully walked on. I was watching one of those squishy underdog stories that the sports networks compile on purpose to manipulate tear ducts into activating.
(side note: Poor husbands! What do they do with the unexplained crying?)
But everyone loves an underdog, am I right? Why do they take such chances? Where do they get the nerve to risk big things? How is their self esteem not shredded?
Malcolm Gladwell says in his book titled “David and Goliath; Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” that we misunderstand the underdog. He asks questions like:
When does a disability leave someone better off?
Why are the childhoods of people at the top of one profession after another marked by deprivation and struggle?
When is a traumatic childhood a good thing?
Enter Pastor Lee:
On June 19, 2011 the Los Angeles Times published an article by John M. Glionna, titled:
South Korean Pastor tends unwanted flock
In the article the story is told of South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak and his heroic efforts to embrace and protect the most vulnerable members of society. The story is most noteable perhaps for the fact that Pastor Lee has installed a drop box.
“The drop box is attached to the side of his home in a ragged working-class neighborhood. It is lined with a soft pink and blue blanket, and has a bell that rings when the little door is opened.“
(Why a bell?)
“Because this depository isn't for books, it's for babies — and not just any infants; these children are the unwanted ones, a burden many parents find too terrible to bear.
One is deaf, blind and paralyzed; another has a tiny misshapen head. There's a baby with Down syndrome, another with cerebral palsy, still another who is quadriplegic, with permanent brain damage.
But to Pastor Lee Jong-rak, they are all perfect. And they have found a home here at the ad hoc orphanage he runs with his wife and small staff. It is the only private center for disabled children in South Korea.” (a country of 50 million people)
What do you do when the odds are against you,
when there’s no way in,
when you’re the little guy?
Case in point: Pastor Lee in South Korea - Mega-underdog, man.
Since 1998, Lee, now 61, has LISTENED FOR THE BELL. “He has taken in hundreds of children — raised them, loved them, sent them to school. He has changed their diapers, tended to their cries in the middle of the night. Today, he has 15 wards: the youngest a 2-month-old, the oldest 18. South Korean government officials have ordered him to remove the drop box.”
He fights the odds (everyday) to provide those with no shot, a chance at life at purpose at hope.
I’ve been studying Gideon out of Judges 6 and 7 lately for some teaching I did recently. Talk about a brother who is an underdog of epic proportions! This little dude, you guys!
Gideon prevails in comically ridiculous circumstances. Like that time when he dropped a jar and a trumpet on the ground and the Midianite army (thousands strong) screamed and ran away. #ridic
Do YOU sometimes feel like you’re holding a trumpet, a jar and no army to speak of?
Maybe you have health issues and doctor after doctor after homeopath after chiropractor has sent you on your way with solutions that SOLVED NOTHING.
Maybe you have too much month left at the end of your money EVERY MONTH and you can’t seem to find a way to work it all out.
Maybe you have a BIG DREAM and the odds seem stacked against you ever realizing its fruition.
What’s YOUR plight? What are you up against? Or maybe you’re avoiding something altogether – just pretending it doesn’t exist - so you don’t have to face it. I’m with ya. I’m chief among avoiders.
Underdogs stand at the edge of a battlefield. Do they drive into the battle, head down, with fierce determination or do they cower in the corner hoping not to be seen? The choice is real. I’m positive I’ve done more cowering than battling. But I’ll tell you which of those choices has me reaching for my Kleenex and vowing to be a better person while watching March Madness…
“Pastor Lee’s motivation for running the orphanage is painfully personal. Twenty-five years ago, Lee's wife, Chun-ja, gave birth to a baby so disfigured Lee kept the boy from her for a month until he could figure out a way to tell her the unthinkable, explaining only that the child had a serious illness and was rushed to another hospital.
The baby was born with cerebral palsy. A mammoth cyst on his head choked off the blood flow, slowly rendering him brain-damaged. Doctors gave him months to live.
Today he lies on a bed in Lee's home, his legs splayed at impossible angles, his feet turned back inward. Eyeing the room impassively, he occasionally lets out a snort or sigh, as his parents regularly vacuum his saliva through a tracheal hole in his throat. They call him Eun-man, which means full of God's grace.”
God is meeting you at the battle ground and He’s taking the battle out of your hands….just like with Pastor Lee, just like with Gideon, just like with every tearjerker of a sports segment that trumpets the strength of the little guy.
Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches: “Wise ones taught me that being of service, an ally to the lonely and suffering, a big-girl helper to underdogs, was my best shot at happiness.” Oh to really GET this!
Things I know for sure:
In God’s economy, small is big.
And (if you let Him) the plight of the underdog is used to bring God glory.
(insert Sportscenter March Madness theme song in your mind here).
How do you feel like an underdog right now?
Who needs you to notice that the odds are against them?
Oh, man. Underdog stories! They're totally the best. Why are we so captivated by their stories? Perhaps it's because underdogs exemplify the fact that anything is possible. And, if anything is possible, there is always hope. Hollywood doesn't make movies about the big giant becoming an even bigger giant. Nobody wants that. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and nobody cheers for that. But the little guy? If he has a chance we all have a chance. "Remember the Titans," "Hoosiers," "Rudy," "The Blind Side" -- these are all tear jerkers for a reason -- we see something of ourselves in them. We wonder if we're good enough and smart enough and, gosh darn it, do people really like us? Can God really use us? Seeing "The Drop Box" movie with you, Christina, was such an amazing experience. And this wasn't Hollywood -- this was the real, honest-to-goodness true-grit documentary. Pastor Lee is living out the gospel in a way that is humbling, convicting and inspiring. His son, Eun-Man, was born a true underdog -- and yet -- his life is changing the world! Not the least of which is the director of the movie, himself (Brian Ivie) who came to faith in Christ WHILE filming the movie. Thank you for constantly pointing us back to the ONE who orchestrates it all.
You asked, "How do you feel like an underdog right now? I have a few answers. I feel like an underdog when it comes to anything physical. I used to run, play volleyball, ski, throw a frisbee, toss a ball, and even bend down to pick up an item off the floor without concern. Everything is different since back surgery. Tony was talking about how he and some of my friends are signed up to run a half marathon and I started crying. Not because I actually would want to do that, but because I don't even have that option to decide anymore. My active lifestyle was a huge part of who I was. Needless to say, Gideon's underdog story has impacted me quite a bit lately. Gideon was basically a wimpy, little, fella, who God chose to use to defeat one of the Israelites most menacing and enduring enemies. I feel like a wimpy, little gal who is constantly frustrated by my new limitations (real or perceived?). But what I'm trying to learn through Gideon is that my weakness, is the key to God's strength. Without the key of weakness, we rarely experience God's strength.