I love telling stories. I suppose a desire to tell them stems from the literature I was exposed to as a boy. Books like All Quiet on the Western Front, To Kill a Mockingbird, East of Eden, and The Bible. I am humbled to be a part of a profession of writers who are charged with a high calling, as John Steinbeck so eloquently put it, “to lift up, to extend, to encourage.” It is my desire to write in this inspiration. Throughout history Man has been searching for meaning, whether it be in the cosmos, in nature, or inside himself. I believe he is ultimately searching for his own story, the one in which God, his Creator, breathed into him to live. Stories themselves can sometimes breathe their own life into him as he struggles to hold on, to inspire him to keep going through agony and fear, that hope and joy are sheltering him, that God loves him. At times they can even somehow reflect the very nature of his soul, as if what is on the page describes exactly what has happened deep inside him. Those are the stories he bonds with, the ones which create new stories, eternal stories, within. It is this duty, to encourage and discover, to which I am dedicated.
If you had asked anyone who knew me in junior high what my passion was, it would have been an easy answer. It was basketball. I remember in seventh grade when my English teacher had us rank the few things that were most important in our lives. I ranked basketball as number one; friends and family as two, and God as third.
I used to sleep with my basketball, just like Pistol Pete Maravich, a legendary guard from LSU. I’d take it with me on every family trip, dribbling on the pavement in a hotel parking lot, or in the gravel, trying to hone my crossover dribble. I’d dribble all through the house, from living room to family room, through the kitchen, driving past my mother on the way to dunking the ball into the couch.
During movie times, I’d have my basketball with me as I lay on the floor, shooting up, trying to only stroke the tip of the ceiling. The popcorn ceiling in my room was so worn down from the ball striking it as I practiced my shot in front of a mirror that it nearly blended in with the smooth walls.
I’d challenge upper classmen to one-on-one pickup games. Juniors. Seniors. College-age. Coaches. It didn’t matter. I’d organize pickup games at lunch in the junior high playground, shooting, dishing, rebounding, jumping up with one hand extended, pulling the ball into my chin and snapping it to a boy on the wing to initiate a fastbreak. A natural lefty, I practiced righty, driving hard two dribbles then pull up for a jump swish; driving hard two dribbles to the left and doing the same. I loved the game.
As a sophomore in high school I twice made over 60 free throws in a row in practice. In college, albeit with no one to verify in the empty gym, I made 136 free throws in a row.
I went to NBC Camp in La Grande three years in a row and challenged the college players, serving as coaches, to games, shooting over and over or driving and banking it off a drive up over the extended hand of a Montana guard. I earned some awards there. I was invited to join the Eastern Oregon AAU team (which I later withdrew from because I was one day too old to play).
On my walls in my room I hung posters of Michael Jordan everywhere I had space, his 1980s posters, his life-size poster, the many collages capturing his athletic poetry. There was not much more than a fist-sized gap of wall showing in all the walls together. I hung them from my ceiling.
I went through my Magic Johnson basketball, then another, and another, and so on, wearing them out through the cold winter months and the wet springs, the hot dusty summers and into the fall when it came time to suit up.
I even took my basketball to football practice—but only until my football coach asked me not to do that anymore.
And I was determined that one day I would dunk the ball, even though I couldn’t. The truth is, I’ve never dunked a ball through a hoop. I’m not athletic enough or tall enough to make that happen.
In high school I wasn’t taller than 5’10”, not much taller than that now. But as a boy, still yet untested, I dreamed of carrying my passion into the NBA. I wanted to be a point guard or a shooting guard.
Those who knew me then would never have argued how passionate I was about the game, my desire was never in question, but by the time I reached high school, I was a little of an “odd” ball, singled out for my monomaniacal fervor. And although much of the faculty and student body at Grant Union understood that I was a well-meaning boy, there were some who couldn’t help but question my practicality. I don’t blame them. I questioned it myself!
I was trying to use the game to carry my own bigger dreams of success and accomplishment that I so craved. In hindsight, I know that I could have played in college. I’ll never know at what level. When I enrolled at Corban University, an NAIA school, in 1994 on a baseball scholarship, I was invited to play on the JV basketball team—so I know I could have played at that level, at least.
It’s possible, perhaps barely so, that I could have played at the varsity level. But to experience any success beyond that is pure speculation. It was a dream, an ambitious one.
What matters most is that it did not come true. In my junior year of high school during football, in the fifth game of the season, as quarterback, I severed my ACL when a linebacker crashed his helmet into my left knee. I can still remember the sound of my ligament snapping like a carrot.
I missed the rest of the season, and all of the basketball season, and did not return to athletics until a playoff game in late May of the baseball season.
The injury floored me, literally. I couldn’t play. Couldn’t move. Instead of suiting up, I hobbled around with the basketball team keeping stats, sitting alone on the bus on the way home, my head propped against the frosted window. I was devastated. And it was the very thing that kept me alive.
I gave my life to Christ in junior high, before I had developed my passion for basketball. I was at Sunday School. I was with a classmate and his mother, who was leading the Bible study. She was explaining how, when you give yourself to Jesus, you give up the throne in your life to Him. You let Him reign on it.
Although I had heard this message before, something clicked on that day. As we prayed, I realized I wanted Him more than anything. I didn’t want to be the lord over my life, or control what was never mine to begin with. I wanted Him to guide me, every day, all the time. When we finished praying, I was weeping, overwhelmed, sensing His presence.
Because of my injury, I had more free time, since I wasn’t in practice. So I started reading the Bible. I had never really read it before then, although I had gone to church. But after my injury, I had nowhere else to turn. I began reading the New Testament at night, discovering Jesus’s words.
My identity gradually began to change, in the same way a tide gently changes the shape of the sand on a beach day after day, month after month, polishing the granules here and there with the ebb and flow and the pull of the moon.
Where before, my identity was as a college-bound basketball player, I now realized that my identity lay in a much deeper truth: that no matter what I am, or what I do, I am grounded in the words of Jesus Christ. In this new identity, the whole world would fall apart, but I am still safe, still loved, still held. And I am free—because of what Jesus did for me on the cross. He chose to be bound, to be pinned, suffering His Father’s wrath, to free me from my addictions and idols and anything else that might cause me death.
What I hadn’t realized before my injury is that Jesus’s passion for me had driven Him to excel in a far more grueling dream, one that had bloodied Him, marred Him, made Him unrecognizable, hideous. A man may be ambitious, and selfishly so. But he will never challenge the ambitious dream of Jesus, to be brutalized and penalized for something He did not do, to take the nails for something He had not done, in order to bring back His enemies, one at a time, no matter how costly or painful, so that the they would sup with Him, hand-in-hand, enjoying safe pasture, like sheep with his Shepherd.
Jesus went after me. I realized that He is jealous for me. He used a knee injury for His benefit, to shake me up, change me, bring me to Him, so that I would find life in Him.
I’m certain that if I had gone on with success in basketball, I may have experienced some form of profit measured in the world’s eyes, but it would have taken me far away from Him. I would have been warm to something other than love, cold toward Jesus.
And even despite my ignorance, Jesus knew what was best. So He allowed it to happen. Pain is never the choice, but if it meant rescuing me, a fallen man, then it may be the only way to get me back to a place where I can be free from pain forever—in the arms of Him.
I believe there is nothing wrong with ambition. God gives us ambitious dreams. But when they are more important than walking with Him, then they become cancerous and destructive, not beneficial. My ambition actually does the opposite of what I intend it to do. I want it to bring life and fulfillment, but it ends up destroying me.
That is because the only thing that can give life is God, our Creator. If I have life in Him, He gives me the freedom to enjoy life as He created it to be, full of the fruits of patience, kindness, peace and love—the fruits of His Spirit, of love gentleness and joy, of giving, generosity, mercy.
Since He is life, let me pursue God. Let Him plant in my heart a new dream, one directly from Him, surpassing any dream I had engineered in my own myopic horizon.
I remember one evening in late fall after my open knee surgery when I was sitting on the edge of my bed in my room. I was scared and hurt. I didn’t understand what had happened, or why. But I was reading in Matthew. And I experienced God. My whole body surged with life. The Holy Spirit touched me, sending sonorous chills all through my body—I don’t know how else to describe it. I felt His divine Hand holding me. And He was reminding me, as in Jeremiah 29:11, that He knows the plans He has for my life, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future.
I’ve remembered that verse. My life has had ups and downs and I have been shaped, and am continually being shaped, polished by His gentle tide. And throughout the struggles, I’ve known Him. And I’ve discovered that there is no greater gift from God than life. To have Him, to be eternally safe in His arms. Just to be alive. Just to breathe. Just to be aware of Him in my depraved, maimed, disfigured state—to know His love. To know that His plan for my life is greater than my injury, whether self-inflicted, or caused by a cruel, cold world that is crying for love.
I believe that God has a plan. He’s called me to Him. He’s done the work; all I have to do is receive it by believing—through faith. Faith is a decision to trust in something that I don’t have all the answers for, a thing beyond me, that is bigger than me. Ultimately, it means laying down the trust that I have in myself, and in my own world, and deciding to trust in God, who is infinitely greater, holy, and just—to put my safety in His hands and not in my own.
An area of my life where I’ve experienced God more intimately, where I’ve trusted Him, is in meeting and marrying my wife, Christie. It’s a blessing to have her by my side. And how we met testifies to the glory of God as our matchmaker. It’s an amazing story that we both got to live.
Sometime in 2008 my mother called me up and said she had a coworker who knew of a young girl in Boise who had just come back from her mission to Mexico, and that she was looking for a friend, just to hang out with. I wrote down her name and number. But I was too nervous to call. (I didn’t want to be set up by my mom.)
Two years elapsed. I decided to enroll at BSU to get my special education certification, and I had to take a Praxis test. But the only place close enough was in La Grande, Oregon. So I drove there, stayed in a hotel, and showed up for the test the next day.
As I was waiting for the orientation to begin, this cute girl sits down beside me, and we begin talking, making small chat, having a good time. We find out that we’re there for the same two tests.
After we finished both of them, she invited me to hang out with her cousins. I was flattered, but I had to get back to John Day to attend my brother and his fiancé’s wedding shower. Total truth. As I left La Grande, I couldn’t get the girl out of my mind.
A week later, after I had returned to Boise, my mother called me up. And she said, “Guess who you met in La Grande?” I didn’t know. “You met Christie, the girl whose number I gave you two years ago!”
So I called her up. And we hung out all fall, spending every weekend together. We liked each other so much that on December 31, 2010, we had our DTR and took it to the next level, as boyfriend and girlfriend, after having watched Titanic, the story of Rose and Jack that many of us have come to love, a classic, modern-day fairy tale. We became a couple on that day!
We decided to make a date box. We took an empty heart-shaped chocolate box and put in slips of paper of all the special kinds of dates we wanted to go on in the Boise area. Some were simple, others, ambitious. One of them was to travel to New York and see a Broadway play. The first slip of paper we pulled out was one that I had put in as mild humor—to get married in God’s timing.
I proposed to her on a sunny day in John Day park, on May 13, 2011. We married exactly three months later—on my birthday, August 13th (my brother and his wife also happened to marry on my birthday, a year earlier.) We honeymooned in Hawaii, thanks to our parents’ help.
If you ever meet my wife, you’d discover in a moment her kindness, her gentleness, her genuine care. She remembers good things about people. She’s encouraging. She’s smart. A teacher. A beautiful woman.
She encourages me daily to never give up. I believe that God is good. That He did not err in creating us, or this world. We chose to reject Him, but He made a way for us to have life in Him, to spend eternity with Him, free.
Free from fear. From pain. Free from loss. Free to soar over the prairies and arch up into the clouds and soak in the rain and the light and never tire. Free to be a friend. To know many friends. To know God, His love. To discover Jesus, His heart.
That’s the net I want in my life. To know Jesus. To net Him. To have Him hoist me in His arms and see what it’s like to finally dunk the ball. A perfect swish. To have Him hold me, His catch. I want to know from His love that I am worth the cost, worth His blood, even though I am not. That’s the net. Just to play with Jesus and to see His game, to witness His court skills, setting us all up for our shot to win the game.
“With all my heart I will praise You, O Lord my God. I will give glory to Your name forever, for Your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death.” (Psalm 86:12,13)