My Steal the Bacon Experience

Dear Friends,

Even though the vision of my blog for this year is dealing with Cultural challenges from a  Biblical perspective I still wanted to have a place for sharing funny stories that emphasise the fact  Missionaries are normal people too.

This is why on Saturdays I will share personal stories from my life that prepared me to become a Missionary in Australia.  There are a few things you need to know about my “Experience Posts”-they are a lot longer than the normal ones (at least twice the length) and include a lot of humour.

I pray sharing these experiences will encourage you to pursue the Will of God for your own life

John Wilburn

My Steal the Bacon Experience 

As a Sophomore in High School I was asked to run for a position in the Student Council against a Junior who would be graduate the next year.  Knowing that an underclassmen had never beaten a Senior for a position I decided to go for something spectacular with my speech a few weeks before elections.

Instead of focusing on strengths I chose to highlight using humour the things that my opponent did much better than me.  My favourite part was, “if you are looking for someone who can hit a game winning three-pointer then I’m not your man!”

The speech was met with thunderous applause, I even high-fived two friends on the way back to my seat!  Part of that was because there were many friends in the audience, but they also appreciated a willingness to admit weakness.

The truth is I wasn’t always willing to proclaim my inability to play sports in front of a student body, in fact for many years it was one thing I tried to hide about myself more than any other.

Most boys when they are young fall in love with a particular sport, which then starts to fill every moment of their free time by either playing it, watching it on television, or talking with friends about it.  I was never that way because at an early age it became clear that I wasn’t an athlete.

Now for some people not being an athlete means only being able to play one sport, in my case it meant that I was terrible at EVERY SPORT. (I did learn later in life that I’m awesome at Wii Bowling)

Over time anything that would emphasise my lack of athletic ability would be avoided at all costs.  I dreaded going to Awana on Wednesday nights because of the game time that would inevitably come. (To this day the sight of an Awana circle makes me break out in a cold sweat)

Free-time at school was spent sitting on the bleachers instead of playing basketball…the good news was a large group of young ladies usually sat with me…the bad news was if one of them looked in my direction I would immediately turn red from embarrassment.

At times the humiliation of sports couldn’t be avoided but I had defence mechanisms in place for those situations.  If we were playing basketball I would put all of my energy into hustling on defence  (Committing about fifty personal fouls each game but it was okay because they never called them) or encouraging the other players, at no time was I anywhere near the ball.

During kickball or baseball games I positioned myself in the five inches of space were the ball had no possibility of reaching me (While surrounded by team-mates to cover for me), and of course bunted every time I came to the plate.  (I did so in an incredibly manly fashion however)

Relays were easy to deal with because it was an unwritten rule that I went against the slowest person (other than me) in the grade.

However there were some moments when the painful humiliation was inescapable because we played games that put a huge spotlight on me as I wore a sign saying, “Don’t Pick Me” in large red letters.  Out of all the tools for humiliation none was greater than “Steal the Bacon.”

It occurs to me that some of you may now know this game so let me take a few minutes to explain it.  First of all there was no bacon in the game whatsoever.

(If there had been I guarantee you I would have become the Undisputed Steal the Bacon Champion of the World…and yes I would have had a title belt made)

Instead the bacon here refers to an item (usually a chalkboard eraser) placed in the middle of a field.  Two lines of students are created at either end facing the “bacon” and given a number.  Once a number is called that person from each team tries to take the bacon past their line for the point.

Of course this was a huge problem for me because it not only accentuated my lack of athleticism, but clumsiness as well.  So usually when my name was called I wouldn’t run as fast as possible, but instead take a leisurely jog to the middle making sure there was ample time for the other teams member to get it first.

This way I could always use the excuse of “not really caring if I won the game or not” and portray an attitude of coolness. (which lasted till I tripped over my own feet a few moments later)

Usually my plan worked perfectly…but then one day something terrible happened.

I was matched up with a popular athlete on the other team but that didn’t really bother me.  What did raise my concern was the fact that he wasn’t taking the eraser, Instead of grabbing the bacon and running with it he simply stood there.  I jogged up with a  confused look on my face since he was ignoring the time honoured rules of Steal the Bacon, he responded by whispering “take it.”

It took a few moments to realize what he was trying to do, this popular student was GIVING ME the bacon!  Since I didn’t respond he looked at me and repeated his offer. (I heard it in the dramatic slow motion speech you hear in the movies before something really violent happens)

Now I wish I could tell you I responded by grabbing the bacon and sprinting to a crowd of cheering students who carried me off on their shoulders chanting my name.  But that didn’t happen; instead I cried.

I’m not entirely sure why the tears came.  It was probably the realisation that the only way I would win at a sport is if someone gave me the win out of pity breaking my heart.  The tears were short-lived however as my teacher noticing them and asked what was wrong…I told him I had twisted my ankle and walked slowly back to my spot.

Now that experience happened in the seventh or eighth grade, but I remember it as if our game of Steal the Bacon happened yesterday.  The memory of what happened there stuck in my mind as a child and affected my approach to sports for many years.

That day on the snow covered ground (I think it was actually sixty degrees outside but saying snow was on the ground makes it much more dramatic) I realised all the defence mechanisms in the world weren’t able to hide the fact that I couldn’t play sports.

This truth created a lifestyle that was firmly built upon the words “I Can’t.”  Originally this only referred to sports (I can’t play basketball) but soon the list of things that John couldn’t do started to become much longer.  Eventually anything that could possibly bring embarrassment like my Steal the Bacon experience was met with absolute refusal.

It wasn’t until years later that God taught me the things I couldn’t do didn’t matter because my identity was found in Christ (more about that next week).  That knowledge helped me view my lack of athleticism in a different way….instead of being a curse that should be buried deep in my heart it should be embraced and shared openly.

That truth challenged me to take risks that could end in humiliation much worse than a playground game.  Sometimes they ended in wonderful success, others they resulted in the most embarrassing situation imaginable, but those embarrassing experiences weren’t the end of the world.  Oh sure in the moment you look for a place to hide, but eventually the humiliation will be forgotten. (I can guarantee you my friends from High School aren’t sitting around saying “hey remember the time John Wilburn wouldn’t take the bacon?”)

So in your “steal the bacon moment” I’m going to challenge you to take it.  Embrace that moment by grabbing the bacon and running as fast as you can (I don’t care if you’re slower than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning combined).  There may not be a crowd of fans waiting to carry you off the field but don’t worry, I’ll be screaming your name.

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John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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