You’re on God’s Team Now

You’re on God’s Team Now

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

You’re on God’s Team Now

Be a life long or short, its completeness depends on what it was lived for.

David Starr Jordan

I slid into my desk in my World History class, dropped my book bag, and heaved a large sigh. Corey whipped his head around to face me. “You don’t understand anything we just covered in physics, do you?”

I smiled faintly and shook my head. Corey just laughed.

“I’ll be at your house after football practice to tutor you,” he said, smiling.

This had become a pretty regular occurrence. I despised physics. Corey aced every test. After football practice, he would always walk to my house and spend as much time as was necessary (and this often involved a lot of time) to make sure I understood the material for our upcoming physics test.

“So, how is your team, Coach Corey?” I asked, eager to change the subject of physics.

“Oh, they are great! They are even playing in their championship game this Thursday night,” he answered enthusiastically. Corey’s younger brother played peewee football, and Corey had signed on to coach the team. He adored his younger brother and his teammates just as much as he adored football.

Being captain of my high school’s cheerleading squad, one of my duties was to make sure a large banner was painted before each game. As the band played, the players ran through it, making their grand entrance onto the football field.

“You know,” I said, leaning toward Corey, “I could probably use some of the paper leftover from last week’s game and make your team a banner to run through before their game.” I watched as Corey’s face lit up like a small child’s on Christmas morning.

“Really? Wow, the kids would be so excited, Jami. Do you really have time?” he asked.

“Consider it done,” I said happily. “This will be my thank-you to you for all your help in physics,” I said, laughing. I knew how important these young boys had become to Corey and how hard he worked as their coach.

The night of their football game, Corey’s peewee team ran through their first football banner. Our high school band even showed up to play our school’s fight song. My friends and I yelled cheers and inserted the peewee team’s mascot into the cheers as Corey’s proud mother filmed the entire game. Of course, the team went on to win their peewee championship game. Despite his own athletic accomplishments, and all his A’s in physics, that championship peewee football game was Corey’s proudest moment. He loved coaching the kids so much that the next day he signed up to coach their baseball team.

With Corey’s help, I ended up getting a B in physics, and we both graduated that spring. We also both were accepted to Louisiana State University. Corey received a scholarship, and he would be the first in his family to go to college. He planned on being a chemical engineer, and the pride in his parents’ faces when they talked about Corey going off to college was obvious. His love for the young boys he coached, however, never dwindled. Corey drove home two evenings every week to continue to coach his team.

Being in college brought new experiences to both Corey and me. Though neither of us, nor any of our friends, drank much in high school, suddenly alcohol , parties, and fake IDs were very much a part of our weekly activities. We rationalized our actions: partying was what college students were supposed to do, right? Who hadn’t ever used a fake ID to purchase alcohol? Our grades were good and we weren’t hurting anyone. This was college and we were having fun! We told ourselves no real harm was being done, and we continued to drink and party.

“How are things going, kid?” Corey asked, late one afternoon.

I gave my usual exasperated sigh. “I failed my algebra test.”

“Jami, I have an A in calculus right now. You know I’m a good math student, I could have helped you,” he scolded me. “Promise me that you will call me to help you before your next exam.”

I promised that I would.

“Some things never change.” He laughed. “Anyway, some friends of mine are coming over to hang out later; I want you to come, too.”

I plopped down on my unmade bed. “I can’t,” I pouted. “I have to be at my nine o’clock history class tomorrow. If I’m going to fail algebra, I at least need an A in history!”

“Okay . . . I guess that is an acceptable excuse, but you aren’t going to fail algebra, because I am going to help you before your next test.”

With Corey’s help, I thought, I might actually pass algebra.

The next day, I made it to my history class on time and plopped down into a desk toward the back of the room. As I did every day, I made sure my cell phone was switched to vibrate mode, then I strategically placed it on top of my bag so the clock was still visible and I could watch the minutes drag by until the lecture was over.

My professor wasn’t too far into his lecture on the Great Depression when I realized my mother was calling me. I smiled to myself, she was probably checking to make sure I was in my class, and this time I would be able to call her back and tell I had been! Minutes later, my phone vibrated again. This time it was my father. This was strange; he never called me in the morning. The third call was my mother again. I began to feel nervous. Something had to be wrong.

As soon as my class was dismissed, I hurriedly dialed my parents’ phone number. When she picked up, I heard the tension in my mother’s voice.

“Jami,” she spoke quietly, “honey, Corey passed away last night. It was some sort of drinking accident. I’m so sorry. “

I stopped in the middle of the hallway, unable to breath. Students flooded out classroom doors all around me. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I couldn’t move. I gasped for breath.

“You must have made some mistake,” I exclaimed. “It can’t be Corey. It has to be someone else.” I felt my throat tighten and then the tears began. I felt the other students' eyes burning into me as I stood in the hallway crying for what seemed an eternity. I couldn’t move.

My father was on his way to pick me up, and by the time he arrived, he had learned the details of Corey’s death. After drinking entirely too much, Corey felt sick and eventually passed out on his bathroom floor. When Corey was discovered lying there gasping for breath, someone called the paramedics but it was too late. Corey died that morning of alcohol poisoning.

In complete disbelief, my mind raced. This can’t be happening, not to Corey. He can’t die this way. Why couldn’t someone have saved him? I stared out the window for the entire two-hour ride home and let the tears roll down my cheeks, never trying to wipe them away. I tried desperately to make sense of my friend’s death.

That evening, the owner of our local funeral parlor, who was also a family friend, called my father and explained Corey’s family was not only dealing with an enormous loss but also the financial burden of Corey’s funeral. I couldn’t sleep. Corey had helped so many people throughout his life. I was his friend. I had to help him.

The next morning I dug out my high school yearbook and began calling everyone we graduated with to ask for a donation for Corey’s family. Even if I only collect a few hundred dollars, I thought, it can still make a difference.

It was no surprise everyone wanted to help. Each person had a special memory of Corey they shared with me. I spent two days driving around our small town picking up cards, letters, pictures, and donations. At one point, a lady approached me in the grocery store. I immediately recognized her as the mother of one of the younger boys on our football team. Her eye’s misted over as she spoke softly, “I heard about what you are doing. I don’t have much money, but I want to donate this.” She handed me ten dollars.

Most of my graduating class members could not spare much after going off to college, paying for new apartments, tuition, and cars. But each one of them graciously gave what they could. Some families even overwhelmed me with hundreds of dollars. By the second day, people I hadn’t even contacted called me to say they wanted to help. By the morning of Corey’s funeral, I had collected $3,000. With an additional donation from Corey’s church, it was enough to cover the cost of his service.

That morning, I sprayed a small box gold and adorned it with black ribbons—our high school colors. I added Corey’s football number to the side; then I filled the box with all the letters, cards, pictures, and money I had collected. I told myself to be strong for Corey’s family, and I left my house to tell my friend good-bye for the last time.

When I arrived at the funeral parlor, I approached Corey’s mother and father. My words came out in a faint whisper as I fumbled over what I was trying to say. “I . . . I know funerals can be expensive, and well, I just know how much everyone loved Corey . . . how much everyone wanted to help. I thrust the small box into Corey’s mother’s hands. “It’s from all the people in the community,” I said quietly.

With that, his mother fell into my arms, and his father embraced me. The rule about being strong was forgotten, and all three of us began to cry. After a long moment, his mother released me and softly cupped my face into her palms as she stared into my eyes.

“My son loved you a lot. He knew how special you were, and now we see why.” I knew this beautiful, yet heartbreaking moment would remain with me for the rest of my life.

About this time a small boy clutching a baseball entered the funeral parlor and walked past us. He had written a message on the baseball: “Coach Corey, you’re on God’s team now. I’ll miss you.” The young boy bravely walked up to the casket and placed the ball next to his beloved coach. For the first time since I had received the news of Corey’s death, I felt peace.

Corey was on God’s team now, and his family, friends, and the members of his community would all remain his loyal fans.

Jami Smith

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