Some years ago a film came out titled "The Air Up There." In it, Kevin Bacon plays a character named Jimmy Dolan. He's the assistant coach of a basketball team at a Catholic university. Dolan had played for that team himself in his college days. He was a star player; one that everyone felt was bound for a professional career in the NBA. But during his senior year he blew his knee out, ending those dreams. His team still won the national collegiate championship, and he stayed on as an assistant coach.
It becomes clear Jimmy is searching for something in his life. It's a life unfulfilled, and his dream is to be the head basketball coach and compete again for a championship. It begins to look as though that dream will be unfulfilled as well, until he learns of a basketball player in Africa he sees as his ticket to glory. He travels to Africa to recruit the player, and what Dolan finds out in the course of the story is that his dream is not everyone's dream. In fact, his dream pales in comparison to the struggles and simple dreams of the people he meets. Jimmy is searching for something, and comes to realize it's not another championship; it's a search for meaning in his life. It's a search for fulfillment that transcends earthly dreams and desires.
I love this film and years ago showed it to the youth group at my church. They enjoyed it as well for its message as well as for the entertainment value. After youth group one of the young people asked if they could borrow the film and I said "Sure." It was the last time I saw it. I'd forgotten I'd lent it out and by the time I remembered I couldn't recall who I had lent it to. A few years had passed and that group of young people had graduated and there was just no going back to try and find out who had it. So I started looking for it elsewhere.
The film has not been released on DVD - I suppose it wasn't quite popular enough. Stores no longer carry videotapes, so that was out. A secondhand copy would pop up on the Internet now and then for $35 or $40 and I just couldn't bring myself to pay that kind of money for a videotape. So I started scouring flea markets, yard sales and thrift shops. I'd always look through the videotapes hoping to find a copy, but was never successful. Then a few months ago when looking on the Internet again I came across a photo of what the box looked like that the videotape was in. Often when I see videotapes at flea markets and such they'll be stacked so you only see the end or side of the box. They're rarely in alphabetical order and if there are dozens or even hundreds of tapes searching becomes daunting. Knowing what the box looked like - sky blue with the word "AIR" in beg red letters - should make my search easier.
I went to a flea market on the other side of town and there was a woman there who literally had thousands of videotapes. All stacked so only the end of the box was showing. Not alphabetized, not in any kind of order. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but I decided to take a few minutes and see if I could find the film. Amazingly, within about two minutes I spotted the box, high up on a shelf about eight feet off the ground. I climbed some boxes, reached up and pulled it down. I had found it! I was so excited! Here I had been looking for this film for years and now I had it. The woman sold it to me for $5 and I went home and watched it. And it was great. It was one of the most satisfying moments I've had recently, not just at having found it for my own personal gratification but also because I'd be able to show it at youth group once again (and I won't be lending it out).
We all know what it's like to have that feeling of excitement and joy when we've been searching for something and find it. Whether it's something simple like finding a virtual needle in a haystack or like Jimmy Dolan we're searching for meaning in our lives, the rush of finding what we're looking for is incredible. To have the anxiety and pain we go through in our searches taken away in a moment is a feeling of fulfillment and joy that is just a glimmer for us of what God feels when one of us returns to Him. When we fall away, when we're lost and alone, when we're suffering and sad God is always searching for us, looking for us, bidding us to return. Like the shepherd Christ speaks of in scripture he is always searching for us, regardless of how inconsequential we may feel. Every one of us is important enough to not be given up on.
God always desires that sense of joy and satisfaction. Not necessarily in the moment, not just for His personal gratification. But for us. For us to feel safe and secure. For us to not wander away but to stay close despite what life may throw our way. For us to understand that there is greater meaning in life that goes beyond earthly glories and possessions. Meaning fulfilled in the loving arms of our shepherd.