Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Family Forte: Putting Down the Bumpers

by: Topher Wiles

Tepid.  Tepid is the way I would describe Ethan’s reaction to our upcoming activity.  We had already enjoyed the Huntsville Space Center on Ethan’s special 10th birthday trip, and then we proceeded down the Alabama roads toward the bowling/arcade/laser tag complex.  I was excited. Maybe it was because we had gotten a great price on the package deal starting with an hour of bowling, or perhaps it was because I was thrilled to enjoy three days alone on a trip with my middle son.  Maybe my previous time coaching bowling at Portland High School had filled me with positive feelings toward maple board planks and crashing pins.  However, it was obvious that Ethan was much less excited than I was.  Ethan’s reaction was disappointingly lukewarm as my excitement toward bowling was growing.  Tepid.

Walking up to the lane, I didn’t notice that the bumpers were down.  Ethan carefully selected his 7lb ball while I tied my bowling shoes and dutifully put our initials into the electronic scorecard.  I looked up from cleaning my bowling ball, and Ethan’s orange polyurethane projectile was already making its way down the lane to find four pins.  “Nice job big man; you did that without a bumper,” I offered as encouragement.

Immediately he froze and asked, “Dad can you put the bumpers up?”  I could see his fear of throwing a gutterball.

“I think you’re fine without them.  I’ll teach you how to keep it in the middle of the lane.  Try and roll another one straight, and we’ll see how it goes.” 

Reluctantly, Ethan threw his next ball.  To his surprise, my second-born picked up two more pins and a big grin on his face.  For the rest of the hour, we worked on a consistent starting spot, a smooth approach, and a solid follow through while using no bumpers.  While he only scored 74 with one spare in that game, I made sure to congratulate him on leaving no open frames, having knocked down at least 1 pin each of his 10 opportunities.

We played games, rode bumper cars, grabbed some lunch, and made our way back home to Sparta, TN.  In the truck, I asked Ethan what the best part of the trip was.  I thought that maybe he’d talk about the centrifuge experience at the Hunstville Space Center or the virtual roller coaster ride on the moon.  Maybe he’d share about the hiking around the lake in the mountains or the air hockey table in our AirBnB.  Maybe he’d share about the night we stayed up way too late playing Super Mario Smash Brothers, or he’d remember that colossal burger he ate at Cheddars.  To my surprise, that tepid look was replaced with excitement as Ethan shared, “I liked knocking over 74 pins without a bumper!” 

I was proud of Ethan, and it had nothing to do with the score.  My pride swelled because of my 10-year-old’s willingness to trust and his joy at overcoming a challenge.  There are few things that make a dad’s heart glad like a kid who will listen, learn, and grow beyond the bumpers of life. 

As a bowling coach, I purchased my own shoes, my own rolling bag, and my own bowling ball drilled perfectly to fit my hand.  I learned to throw a nice hook that swung out wide to the edge of the lane and then broke back toward the right pocket of the headpin for a strike.  My scores were great, averaging in the 180’s… except when I went bowling with my young children and shared their lane with the bumpers.  When the bumper was up, I struggled to break 100.  Why was that?  With a bumper up, I couldn’t throw my ball out wide across the boards for a hook, maximizing the potential of my game. 

What bumpers are holding you back from enjoying the best God has for you in life? 

Maybe you struggle with the “Perfect Bumper.”  This is the bumper that hinders us from enjoying some of the best people or the best moments in life.   Waiting for the “perfect person” or the “perfect moment” with no imperfections causes us to miss out on the good things around us.  Maybe it’s your time to grow by putting away the “perfect bumper” that’s been protecting you from the occasional gutterball.

What about the “Worry Bumper?”  Some people put this bumper up as a defense to protect from the uncertainties of money, relationships, and even faith experiences.  For instance, some people struggle to step foot in a church because they worry what everyone will think.  Don’t let the worry bumper cause decision paralysis where you fail to even roll a ball down the lane of life.  Learn and grow as you put the worry bumper down, knowing that the occasional gutterball won’t sink your score.   
Could you struggle with the “Predictability Bumper?”  That’s the bumper we put up whenever we fear changes in life.  Some people avoid college, marriage, or a new job because they fear the unknown in the changes of life.  They settle on the predictable if it is uncomfortable.  Maybe it’s time for you to put the predictability bumper down to enjoy the beautiful new and growing experiences God has to offer you in life. 

Sometimes we need to put down the bumpers of perfection, worry, and predictability for our ball to cross the most and best boards that a life in Christ has to offer.  Enjoy more than tepid moments by growing, learning, and embracing the joy of overcoming exciting challenges in life.  I was proud of Ethan for meeting the challenge and growing from it.  Your heavenly Father will be proud of you, too.    

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:18 

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,