HOOP DEADLINES & THANKSGIVING

The sellout crowd at Xavier University’s 10,000-seat arena was on its feet a few days ago. The object of their ovation, a 19 year old freshman on Division-III’s Mount St. Joseph college basketball team. But what’s so special about a young woman scoring a basket on a left-handed layup in her first college basketball game? After all, it’s been done a thousand times before. But the difference for Lauren Hill is that she has an inoperable brain tumor and just months to live. Lauren’s battle against pediatric cancer somehow jumped the wall between private struggle and national outpouring. Determined to make a difference for children who one day would also contract cancer, Lauren began a fund-raising effort some time ago for research. Because her tumor affects her coordination, righthander Lauren had learn to shoot with her left hand. So she launched an online layup challenge “that involves spinning around five times and shooting a layup with the non-dominant hand” (South Bend Tribune 11-3-14). Thanks to social media, word of Lauren’s challenge spread beyond her small school outside Cincinnati to the nation, and #Layup4Lauren fundraising mushroomed across the country, with donations pouring into the Cure Starts Now Foundation. Her disease continued to worsen over the summer and into this fall. Aware of the urgency of Lauren’s condition, the NCAA voted to move up by two weeks the Mount St. Joseph home opener. And what an opener it was for this teenager from Lawrenceburg, Indiana. There to cheer her on were football players from the Cincinnati Bengals, a roster of WNBA stars, and a packed out arena. Removing her sunglasses and headphones (which she wears because of acute sensitivity caused by the tumor), Lauren took her place in the starting five. You can imagine the roar when Lauren spun away for the first basket of the game, a left-handed layup. And as it turned out, the final basket of the game was hers as well, a difficult (for her) right-handed layup with 26.5 seconds left in the game, a game she and her team won.  But in between the two baskets Lauren Hill sat out much of the game on the bench, physically depleted but basking in the realization that she had realized her dream to play college basketball. In closing ceremonies the U.S. Basketball Writers Association bestowed on Lauren its Pat Summit most courageous award (normally awarded during the Final Four). To the crowd Lauren Hill declared, “Today has been the best day I’ve ever had.” And then she promised, “We’re gonna fight this.” “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1). Lauren’s story reminds us of life’s two undeniable realities: (1) the only day we have to live is Today, so let us live it to the full; and (2) there is always reason to be grateful. “I complained to God I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” This Thanksgiving is there one gift from God that summons the deepest gratitude we can muster? “The thought that Christ died to obtain for us the gift of everlasting life, is enough to call forth from our hearts the most sincere and fervent gratitude, and from our lips the most enthusiastic praise” (Sons and Daughters of God 238). Then for Lauren Hill and for us, this Thanksgiving will be the most blessed of all.

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