The Team that Found its Swing

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others.” The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown, Page 161

“When you get the rhythm in an eight, it’s pure pleasure to be in it. It’s not hard work when the rhythm comes–that ‘swing’ as they call it. I’ve heard men shriek out with delight when that swing came…it’s a thing they’ll never forget as long as they live. – George Yeoman Pocock as quoted The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown, Page229

I read this and have to put down my book and stared into space. I’m taken back to a few years ago when a team of teachers serving in China found our “swing.” It was a year of amazing unity, biblical community like I’d never before and never since been a part of: a family who didn’t share the same bloodline. Like the “swing” described so vividly in the quotes above, it is something I’ll never forget as long as I live.

That team changed me. I came away from that year a more generous person. I learned about true hospitality and came to a greater appreciation and awe of God’s ability to use conflict to deepen relationships. That glimpse of what can be accomplished when there’s unity leaves me thirsty for more.

Looking back, I see how we were able to find our swing that year because we were all on the same page. So many times I’ve heard people say “that’s not why I’m here” in reference to serving their team or living well in a team context.

People come with their head in the clouds, ready to save the world and ignore the people serving right beside them. It breaks my heart because I’ve seen how much better we all are when we work together.

I’ve seen community lived out between teammates in such a way that the first glance of it initiated curiosity from outsiders. “Why do you love each other so? You aren’t related. You haven’t even known each other that long,” our students would say as they saw us feed each other and go out of our way to carry each others’ burdens. We all laid down our “this is why I’m here” agenda and agreed on a greater good of team unity and worked every day to keep it that way.

Things weren’t always happy. We shed tears together and fought hard fights to keep our relationships intact. Reconciliation played a huge part of our success. We also saw each other throughout the day and even lived on the same floor, all tucked inside our own cozy apartments that shared a hallway where the children laughed and played.

The thing we did best was feed each other. At one point, we realized we all holed ourselves into our individual kitchens every night to cook dinner at basically the same time. “What if,” someone pondered aloud,” we fed each other?” Even though I didn’t really think I could possibly feed 8 adults and 4 kids well, it was an attractive idea.” You cook for all of us on Monday evening, I’ll cook for us Tuesday, they’ll take Wednesday and you can cover Thursday.”

We began our little communal experiment and everyone seemed quite pleased. Even though cooking in such a large quantity was challenging at first, I eventually got the hang of it. Instead of shopping for four meals, I just had to gather ingredients for one. Instead of washing and chopping and kneading and frying four times a week, I just had to do it once! I’m amazed that even the singles on the team were willing to take a day, and working together they fed us all as well.

The food we ate that year was impressive, but the community it created was astounding. Four nights a week teammates saw each other face to face in each others’ homes. Sometimes we’d all eat together, other times people would drop by and make a plate to take back to their place, but either way we saw each other. We checked in. We did life together.

Guests were always welcome, and I think that’s what made it even more special. I can still remember the astonished looks on faces of college students as our team piled into their hosts’ apartment, heaping plates full of food and sitting down to eat together and chat about the day. The body of Christ came to life right before their eyes as they saw us live out true community in one another’s apartments and out and about as well.

Life goes on and every team doesn’t find its swing. As stated in my opening quote, “Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it”. However, I can tell you it does happen. I hope one day it will happen to you, and when it does you’ll cherish it for the true gift that it is.

Where have you experienced swing?

Photo Credit: Lorianne DiSabato via Compfight cc

8 Comments

  1. Ashley April 9, 2015

    What a fun idea to serve each other! I’d love to do that. 🙂

    Not sure we’ve had a swingin’ team yet, but all have been wonderful. We’ve been fortune to have been on teams where we all got along well, and when we ran into obstacles, the right steps were taken to sort things out. So thankful for that, because we know one of the main reasons people leave the field is because of their team! So, so sad.

    1. M'Lynn April 13, 2015

      Ashley, I’m glad you can use the word “wonderful” to describe your teams! What a blessing. And, I so miss the community meals. Every time I tell someone around here about it, they scratch their heads, give me a funny look and say I’m a communist. Lol. I think living on the same floor in a very tall building with a very cold outdoor climate really did our teams a favor when it came to togetherness!

  2. Danielle Wheeler April 9, 2015

    I just love the idea of “swing” and how you tied it to team, M’Lynn.  And that you made it clear that unity in community is not perfection, it’s hard and messy, but pushing through that gets you to the sweet spot.  Such good stuff!

    1. M'Lynn April 13, 2015

      The whole book is such a good “yay, team!” book. 🙂

  3. Jennifer April 9, 2015

    So powerfully true… and a great reflection on and description of that year. I saw it from a different side, as one of the outsiders to that team, and the thing that stands out to me the most is that the strength of team, that their team experienced that year was not exclusive and did not have walls around it shutting others out. That year I was one of the accepted outsiders to that team and I know that the impact on me was both powerful and real. The description given here was real. It can be challenging when you live on the outside of a strong team, and when most of the  foreigners that you relate closely to are part of “team” and you simply are not it can simply be challenging. I have lived with the simple reality of that all my years where I am, and a significant challenge is dealing with the impact of teams who are less open to foreigners who are on the outside of team or who place such boundaries around what they are prepared to interact with outsider foreigners about that is can simply be difficult to build relationships or to find a way to resolve problems or challenges when they do occur. I grapple with the reality of that right now, and honestly no longer have any idea just what to do. Perhaps this powerful reminder to me of what I once lived with and was deeply blessed by will enable me to continue to persevere in current challenges and not just walk away but continue to work to try and make things right.

    1. M'Lynn April 13, 2015

      Jennifer, You bring up a huge issue here. And, I’ve struggled and struggled with this over the years. “Team” can be great if you’re on the inside, but from the outside looking in, “Team” can be so hurtful to those like you who are here to serve, but have no assigned “Team.”  I don’t have answers. But, I want to say I hear ya. And I know I’m not perfect at being inclusive, so I also try and give others grace when I’m the one left out. I’ll be lifting you up, friend.

  4. brooke April 9, 2015

    I am thankful for a wonderful team where I serve. Many of us have been serving together for 10 years or more. That is a rare treasure I am told.  I know that we have interacted carefully and valued each other. We have had many come and go as well through these year. Some of them were only signed up for 1-2 years and others left the field for other ministries. Each hello and good-bye is difficult.  Some of these people are life long friends no matter where on earth they end up. But with each person coming and going it becomes harder and harder to put effort into the relationship.

    1. M'Lynn April 13, 2015

      Brooke, Thanks for chiming in! I’m so pumped to hear about a team situation where teammates have been together 10+ years. What a rare gem. As the hellos/goodbyes get harder and harder for me, I recall the long-term servants who greeted me when we came here and continue to greet and greet and greet! Keep up the good work!

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