Jake sent the following out to his Kindgom Hoops program this week, and I wanted to share it on the blog as well...
A couple of weeks ago I had a parent within the program call me up to do lunch. I was assuming this individual wanted to talk about his kids, especially since they are new to the program. However, I got a cool surprise. His first question for me that day at lunch was that he wanted to know ‘my story’ - or in more 2011 Christian language ‘my testimony’! It was a great lunch, and it was fun to share the journey God has had me on the past eight years. As I hopped back into my car that afternoon it dawned on me that I have never shared my God story with the program. My initial thought was how can I expect people to understand what we are doing as an organization if they don’t even know how this all started in my life. So, this week I have decided to share my testimony. Please note this is the abbreviated version. If I went into all the details this 'thought for the week' would be 30 pages long. I will do my best to keep it short and as concise as possible.
My journey to Christ started in college at Iowa State as God began to remove the things from my life that I had clung to deeply for so long. As I was losing so much that I had held dear, God began to bring people into my life that would show me a different purpose for living.
Over the course of the first 20+ years of my life I had created a god that was centered around me and basketball. I never really understood that while pursuing my dreams. I figured I was just pursuing a goal that I was extremely passionate about. The more success that I garnered on the basketball court the greater my desire grew for the status and recognition that came along with my success. I never understood that I had any platform greater than myself. Of course I did a lot of nice things for other people, and always had a passion for young people, but when you got down to the core of it, all of my nice actions were really to benefit me.
My college basketball career began similar to all that I had known in the past. I committed myself to being successful more than anyone else around me. Through all my hard work (or so I thought) I continued receiving as much praise and admiration as I did in junior high and high school. Then it all changed one July day in Norway. I was traveling in the summer of 2002 with the Big 12 all-star team overseas for a couple of weeks while we competed against international competition. I was playing the best basketball of my life, and without question was having the most fun I had ever had playing basketball. During the prior six months I had committed myself to losing 30 pounds, and I was beginning to see the aspirations of playing in the NBA just outside the reach of my finger-tips. It was our 2nd to last game during the tour, and during the last minute of the game I rolled my ankle pretty badly. I probably should not have played in the final game, but I said what the heck! I got it taped up and took some serious pain medication. During that final game I was 7 for 7 from the three point line in the first half, and with the adrenaline and pain medication I had forgotten about my ankle.
Then in the second half I felt something different. I could never accurately describe it, but I was pretty sure I tore whatever you can tear in your ankle. When I got back on the bus that evening I discovered that I could pop my ankle in and out of its socket. It was quite painful to do it, and I thought to myself that this can’t be normal. A few days later I returned to Iowa State and went immediately to the athletic medical staff. Within a couple of hours of bringing this to their attention I was in a tube getting an MRI. The results came back, and it showed no structural damage. They could not see anything wrong, and they thought it was just all the swelling from the sprain, and I was told it would be better in a couple of weeks.
As my junior season began in 2002 I definitely knew something was wrong with my ankle. At the same time that I was struggling with this injury God was putting people in my life that would eventually lead me towards Christ. Obviously, I had no idea that was what was going on, but as I look back on it I now I can see what God was up to. We had this manager on staff named Dave Edwards that gave me a Bible, and told me to read the book of James as it would help me deal with Coach Eustachy. A year and half earlier I started dating a pretty good looking girl, and she started to attend something called Salt Company at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. I thought it would be a good idea to attend if she was ever seriously going to date me! (This good looking girl later became my wife). On the basketball court everything looked great from the outside, but the reality of the situation was much different. I was taking anywhere from 4-6 vicodin pills per/day, and was getting shot up before every game. My ankle would dislocate 4 or 5 times per/game. I would bend over pop it back into place and keep playing. It helped that I was so drugged up that I really could not feel it anyways.
After the season was over I was in for another MRI, but again nothing. But, the doctors could now clearly see how easily I could pop my ankle in and out, so they decided to cut me open and see what was going on. To make a long story short my ankle was shredded into little pieces. The doctors went in a couple times to insert screws, repair tendons, and shave down bone. I rehabbed as hard as I could, but as I slowly returned for my senior year I knew this journey was coming to end. It is also important to mention that during all of this my head coach Larry Eustachy was in the middle of a huge scandal after a poor decision at the University of Missouri. The media was everywhere, I had a cast up to my knee for three months, and soon the guy who was responsible for bringing me to Iowa State was now resigning. Teammates were transferring and a new staff was being brought in. My previous best friend had transferred to Mississippi State a year earlier, and now my new best friend was transferring to Iowa. In the midst of all the chaos, God had started to reveal himself to me. I slowly began to understand the realization of what Christ did for me and all my sin on the cross. In September 2003 I surrendered my life to Christ and God started me on an incredible journey.
My basketball career ended at Madison Square Garden in the final four of the NIT in March of 2004. All those hours of hard work were now a distant memory. All the trials and tribulations on the basketball court were over. All the things I accomplished did not really matter any longer. Cyclone Nation was on to the new recruits and the new players that would continue Hilton Magic. Within a blink of an eye it was all over. A couple months after that last game in NYC I got married to the girl I dated all through college. I began to grow in my understanding of the Bible. I was now doing what good American Christians do! I was going to church every Sunday, I was actively a part of a young married couple’s bible study every Wednesday night, and yes I would grudgingly open my Bible on occasion to read it. My life had gone from a great adventure on the basketball court, to something that was simple, quiet, and in my mind pretty boring. During the start of this new life I had the opportunity to start All Iowa Attack alongside a successful Ames businessman, and soon found myself living a rather cushy life for being 25 years old. I was working for a successful business man, I had very little expenses, and I was making more money than anyone else my age that I knew of with the exception of my friends that went on to play professionally.
However, I was so BORED. In 2008 I was up visiting my parents over Labor Day. JJ was now 2 years old, and my wife and I had just had Jayla who was about 3 months old at the time. We had spent the morning and early afternoon on Saturday 2008 of Labor Day Weekend at the Minnesota State Fair. When we arrived back at my parents’ house everyone headed to take a nap. I was left alone to my thoughts in the basement that I grew up in. I had really been wrestling with this boredom in my life. I was used to playing in front of 15,000 people in Hilton Coliseum. I was used to a life that was always centered around goals that everyone always told me I would never accomplish. My basketball career had taken me to over half of the states in the United States, and handful of different countries. I missed the locker room. I missed my teammates. I missed the adventure of being an athlete. And, anyone who has had the opportunity to compete in athletics at a very high level will know exactly what I am talking about.
Now I was living a quiet life, coaching young people, in Ames, Iowa. I knew I was going to heaven, and I knew Jesus died for me. I was very grateful for this realization, but no matter how you slice the bread it was boring. So, with all of this swirling in my head all I really knew how do was just to tell God. I was pretty sure that I would totally offend him, but what the heck he might just answer my prayers. He always had answered my prayers from the first time I got to know him in 2003, so I thought that just maybe He would want to listen to me again. That September day in 2008 I got down on my knees and simply cried out to God. I told him how bored I was, and if there was more to this Christ thing than just going to church on Sunday, doing a bible study, and one day entering eternal life. I asked Him to show me what I was missing. Then as I closed out my prayer I told God that if there isn’t more to this journey with Christ on earth to just please take me to heaven now, otherwise I was going to drive myself nuts due to the shear boredom of my life since basketball had come to an end.
I finished crying out to God, and I wasn’t sure if He was even listening. About an hour later I got a text from a man in our church asking if I wanted to join his men’s group. I texted him back asking what time and when? He said, “6am, Thursday mornings.” For anyone that knows me I don’t do mornings. Usually I don’t go to sleep until 1 or 2am, so 6am just does not work in my schedule. Plus I suffer from something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which I will share more about another week, but the less you sleep the more the symptoms of OCD manifest themselves. I quickly texted him back and said, “Maybe some other point in my life, but not now.” I wish I could say that was the end of the story. However, God bugged me about it all day, and the next morning for some reason I texted him back and said that I had changed my mind and I would see him Thursday morning. From this point on God began to show me that there is so much more to a life that is fully dedicated to Christ, but this did not get revealed overnight.
In our men’s group we were studying through the book of Isaiah. Most of our topic was that as men God has called us for a particular purpose, and we can either choose to join him or not. But, regardless of what we decide God’s purpose would be accomplished, so we might as well jump on his team and join in on the adventure.
Two weeks after starting this men’s group my wife and I are attending our Sunday church service when about 20 minutes into service she begins to cry uncontrollably. As any husband would do, I replayed every action that I had made in the past 24 hours that could have caused this anguish. I was sure I had done something wrong, but I was having trouble putting my finger on exactly what it was. Janel excused herself to the restroom, and came back about 10 minutes later. We made it through the rest of the service, and soon we were heading to the car with the kiddos in hand. During this walk to the car it seemed like the car was miles away. I had a huge knot in my stomach, as I was sure she was going to inform me of what exactly I had done wrong. Well, what comes out of her mouth next is not what I was expecting. Janel says, “I am pretty sure that God wants us to adopt, and when they were showing the video of the orphanage in Zambia it was like God was speaking directly to me.” I opened my car door and under my breath I said to God, “Thank you Lord that it was you and not me.” I then turned to my wife and said, “Sure that would be a lot of fun.” If only I knew what God was going to begin in our life.
About two weeks after my wife and I had officially decided we were going to adopt I got a knock on my office door, and it was the business man I worked for with All Iowa Attack. He informed me that he was selling the All Iowa Attack facility, and that I would need to find a place for our boys’ teams to practice as he could not have all those boys at his home gym practicing throughout the winter. I thought somebody had just punched me the face, and I looked up and said, “Seriously?” Oh, he was serious and I started looking for options. As I am out searching for options God is moving our adoption along. God was developing a strong passion inside of me to ensure that our adopted child would always understand where they came from. I wanted our yet to be named child to understand that God had simply allowed them to be adopted by a family from the United States, but they were not just escaping their country. Instead, I wanted them to always have a responsibility to make an impact in the place that God would call them from. With these thoughts swirling around in my head and some money saved up from individual training that I had been doing, I decided to start a 501C3 foundation called Kingdom Hoops. I had no business plan, and no idea why I was really starting this foundation, but I thought to myself if I ever needed it at least I would have it.
Before I could blink it was the spring of 2009. Our boys’ teams were now practicing at a facility in Ankeny. I had a foundation all set up, and was headed to Africa for the first time ever with no plan, and no idea what I was actually doing. In May of 2009 my All Iowa Attack partner and I decided to go different directions which removed me from the comfort of his umbrella. Our first adoption attempt had fallen through and cost us an enormous chunk of money in fees that we could not recoup, and we were choosing to start the process all over.
The rest is really history filled with a million different God stories along the way. God forever changed my life in 2008, and I will most definitely never be the same. In it all I became a believer in 2004, but God truly took my life from me in 2008. He continues to grow me, and challenge me daily. I have been in a place the past 18 months where I have nearly lost everything. There is no money any longer in my savings and retirement accounts. Most of my life makes little sense to the world. However, I take great comfort in knowing that Jesus said He would use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). The adventure I was looking for has most definitely been found in Christ. He has taught me how to give up my life for His purposes. He is teaching me how to fully trust in His word and promises. I have seen His Glory shine when all seemed lost. One prayer, on one fall day, had changed everything. God showed up like I could have never imagined. There are many days I want to quit. But, then I think how easy it would have been for God to quit on me when my god was me and my dreams. Who knows where the adventure will lead, but I take great comfort in knowing that I am still part of a team, now God’s team.