As a pastor, I'm used to being on the other end when someone has a religious experience. I know well the light in someone's eyes when their mind and heart both arrive at the knowledge of truth and they embrace that truth with their entire being. It's familiar to me, and yet it never grows old, because helping people come to know God in a deeper, more personal way, is why I do what I do.
But it's been a long time since I was on the receiving end of a transformative moment. I should've known it would happen on a Sunday.
Now, let me preface this by saying that what I experienced on Sunday morning wasn't a religious experience. It didn't happen in a church. It didn't come during a time of intense preaching or prayer or meditation. In fact, what happened to me occurred in the middle of a throng of screaming, hollering adults who watched a screaming, hollering throng or first grade girls shimmy, strut and dance their way across a gigantic blue mat.
On Sunday, in the middle of the Gwinnett Football League's annual Cheer Off I became a cheerleader myself.
For someone who was skeptical of cheerleading (to say the least), it was the last thing I expected to happen. I've long been critical of the sport, and even that is being mild. I've made jokes, offering cutting remarks, and otherwise just been snotty about the whole enterprise. Part of it was insecurity - cheerleaders always represented a socio-economic strata that I could never touch, but part of it was just flat out ignorance.
So when my daughter decided she wanted to be a cheerleader, I was forced to eat my words. On Sunday, they were delicious.
Ella's team, the 1st Grade Grayson Rams, won their grouping at the Cheer Off. I've included the YouTube link so you can see their performance, and if you watch it, you'll not be able to miss the fact that there is one loud male voice throughout the entire piece. That would be me. Yelling like a goofball. Yelling like a maniac. Yelling, as it were, like a proud dad.
I didn't even realize I was doing it. Not until we watched the video and Ella said, "Dad, stop it! That's embarrassing."
She was right. I yelled so loudly and for so long that my throat hurt the rest of the day. I tried fiddling with the video to see if I could get my voice to not stand out so much, but it proved to be impossible. But the more I think about it, the more I don't care.
I want my daughter to know that her daddy loves her, and will yell like a moron to cheer her on. I want her to know that I don't have a threshold when it comes to self-abasement on her account; I will gladly make myself out as an utter fool so she knows that at least one person has her back and believes in her. I will take the stares, the belittling remarks, the cutting comments, and the other assorted jibes because it's more important for Ella to know that she's supported than it is for me to save face.
It's funny, but it took my daughter becoming a cheerleader for me to understand them; and in understanding them, I became one.
Ella has said recently that she doesn't want to cheer next year. She's interested in moving on to gymnastics or dance or something else that will tickle her fancy in the next few months. And that will be fine; we want her to experience many things in the hopes of helping her find what she's really passionate about. If cheerleading isn't it, then we move on to the next interest and go from there.
But if this is her only time cheering, what a glorious time it was. She not only had fun and made new friends, but she learned a lesson about hard work and practice, about how a large group can come together to achieve great things. She will go into retirement with a large trophy and an even larger smile.
I walk away finally getting it: we all need cheerleaders.