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CLOSE: (the following illustration can be found on the internet – the event occurred April 25, 2003) Maurice Cheeks is the retired All Star point guard who at one time coached the Portland Trail Blazers. His team had just finished warming up for a playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks. The players were all courtside and eager for the tip-off. The Blazers were down 0-2 in the series, and Coach Cheeks was focused on the game. But, the center of attention for the moment was 13-year-old girl named Natalie Gilbert. The crowd Portland’s Rose Garden was asked to stand as Natalie sang the national anthem. The eighth grader had sung the same piece a hundred times for public events before that evening and was now about to perform it on national TV. As the arena grew quiet, she raised the microphone clutched in her right hand and began to sing the familiar words of The Star-Spangled Banner -- and froze. She was an award-winning pianist and singer… but her mind just went blank Yes, she’d been sick for the past couple of weeks and was behind in her schoolwork. But, she had just sung all the words perfectly in a backstage rehearsal. They were all running together in her mind now… and she was hopelessly stuck in a nightmare moment. Some in the audience began to laugh and jeer Suddenly, Coach Cheeks was standing by her, his left arm sheltering her, and whispering the lost words into her ear. As Natalie softly tried to find her way through the anthem, he used his right hand to invite the watching fans to join in. And so a little girl, an off-key coach, and 20,000 people finished the song together. At that moment in time, Coach Cheeks became God to her. He came up beside here when she was struggling and facing a terrible embarrassment… and he spoke the words she needed to hear. In the same way, Jesus comes along side us – when we stumble, when we fail, when life becomes embarrassingly difficult – and speaks to us the words we need to hear.

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